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Pomp and Circumstance: TN Prisoners Earn Degrees Behind Bars

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More than 20 Tennessee prisoners are earning their associate degrees in political science or business today outside Nashville. (Quadrans/flickr)
More than 20 Tennessee prisoners are earning their associate degrees in political science or business today outside Nashville. (Quadrans/flickr)
January 10, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Wednesday more than 20 male prisoners in Tennessee are celebrating the completion of the associate degrees they earned while behind bars.

It's the first such group to receive the honor in more than 20 years.

The inmates will graduate at the Turney Center Industrial Complex as part of a program with Nashville State Community College that's coordinated by the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative (THEI).

Executive director Molly Lasagna says education is one way to give people a place to start once they are released.

"Our mission at the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative is really to think about the way that higher education opportunities, college opportunities, prepare folks to go back to their communities and experience success," she states.

THEI currently has 140 students enrolled at two prison facilities, the other being in the Memphis area at Northwest Correctional Complex in partnership with Dyersburg State Community College.

A mix of public and private funding supports the program. It has been in existence since 2012, and Lasagna says the recidivism rate is 4 percent, compared with the state average of more than 40 percent.

Similar programs have been more widely available to female inmates in Tennessee for several years.

Lasagna says the education the men and women receive only helps them contribute to their communities.

"The majority of our students will be released from prison either during their studies or once their studies are complete," she points out.

According to the Institute for Higher Education Policy, recidivism rates for incarcerated people who participated in educational programs behind bars were on average 46 percent lower than rates of inmates who did not take college classes.


Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN