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LCCC to participate in program to teach inmates

  • Larissa Verta
    Larissa Verta
Published September 15. 2016 02:45PM

Prison overcrowding is a problem plaguing the country.

More people are being sentenced to state prison terms, causing an influx in the already crowded penitentiaries.

To combat this growing problem and attempt to cut down on recidivism, the federal government has re-enacted the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program, a $30 million initiative that had been eliminated for state and federal prisons in 1994.

Pell Grants are financial aid given to low-income undergraduate students and do not need to be paid back, unlike loans.

This program will provide 12,000 state inmates across 27 states who qualify for college with the first steps toward obtaining an associate degree while incarcerated.

Lehigh Carbon Community College is one of 69 colleges and universities across the country and one of only four in the state that have qualified for participation in the program.

The college joins Villanova, Bloomsburg and Indiana University of Pennsylvania in serving a combined 115 inmates in the initial phase.

"It's going to provide those who are incarcerated with tools for when they are released, not only to survive but thrive and be productive members of the community," said Larissa Verta, interim dean for the school of health care sciences at LCCC.

"They are being held accountable for the crimes they commit but we are also providing a service to them so that they can get back out and not reoffend."

LCCC will start the new program in the springserving 10 inmates at SCI Frackville and20 inmates at SCI Mahanoy.

Those who qualify will take classes in the facility online and over video conference calls once the program is fully up and running, state Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel told The Associated Press.

Inmates selected for the program will work toward associates degrees in either business management or accounting and an entrepreneurship or small-business specialized credit diploma that will be incorporated into both degrees.

"The diploma will serve as an incentive for the inmates to persist through the program so they are obtaining something that they can take with them while going toward an associate degree," she said.

The state Department of Corrections will select inmates using set criteria, including having a high school diploma or GED, who must then apply for college just like every other student.

They must fill out FAFSA forms, apply for financial aid and meet the college's standards as well.

Verta said the program aims to reduce recidivism on all levels by providing inmates with the building blocks to get a meaningful job once they leave incarceration.

Verta said studies show that "incarcerated people who participated in educational programs are 43 percent less likely to go back into prison, which is a pretty significant percentage. It offers a 400 percent return on investment over three years for taxpayers."

Cindy Haney, vice president for enrollment management, said, "Postsecondary education improves life for families, individuals and community as well.

"They pay for their crime with a prison sentence but now they don't have to pay for that crime for the rest of their life if they have an opportunity to get an education."

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