Eighteen incarcerated students will become university graduates Tuesday at the Everglades Correctional Facility in South Florida.
Imagine taking an introductory constitutional law course while serving a sentence. A group of 20 students joined the first class of the Second Chance Pell Experience program in 2021. It offers federal Pell Grants to imprisoned individuals, so they can pursue post-secondary education.
Samantha Carlo, co-director of the Institute of Educational Empowerment at Miami Dade College, which runs the program, said the first-class pass rate is quite remarkable given the many constraints of teaching in prison. The group of 18 out of 20 should receive associate degrees.
“The students of the first cohort who will still be incarcerated, all enroll in our Bachelor of Commerce, especially in supervision and management,” explained Carlo. “Students will continue while incarcerated to earn their bachelor’s degree.”
Carlo noted that two students have been released and both are employed in the nonprofit sector. She credits their experience, college credits and abilities to get jobs before graduation, which is set for 5:30 p.m. at Everglades Correctional Facility. The second batch of students selected in January is already underway.
Carlo pointed out that many participants, who are now in their 40s and 50s, said they regretted not realizing the benefits of an education when they were younger and were grateful to have the opportunity to recover from their mistakes. Carlo added that this is why the program currently focuses on delivering business degrees.
“We chose the business degree because it’s the most open and lenient with people who have felony convictions on their record,” Carlo acknowledged. “So it will ultimately prepare them to work in an industry that requires business training.”
Carlo pointed out that the program helps reduce recidivism and that anyone with a high school diploma or GED in the Everglades can apply to enroll, but show proof of Florida residency to obtain funding. is the biggest challenge, because being incarcerated does not count.
Carlo said the program is trying to work with interested people to find the required proof of residency a year before they are locked up.
Support for this report was provided by Lumina Foundation.
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