By AFRO Staff

Bowie State University has become the first HBCU in Maryland to offer a degree program for persons incarcerated at a state correctional facility.

The program, offered by the school through the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, would allow qualified inmates at the Jessup Correctional Institution to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sociology and an optional entrepreneurship certificate.

“The university’s prison education program is embedded in our Restorative Justice and Practices Institute which enables us the opportunity to inject the principles of restoration, reconciliation, harms and needs, and empowerment into the curriculum,” said Dr. Charles Adams, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Bowie State, in a statement. “We want to inspire each individual in the program to strive for personal and educational freedom while they embrace the journey of becoming whole again.”

The university’s restorative justice agenda is already served by its status as a Second Chance Pell Grant awardee. These targeted grants are offered to incarcerated individuals to participate in college and university educational programs.  

To matriculate in Bowie’s sociology program, incarcerated citizens are required to have a high school diploma or GED. Enrolled inmates would then take four courses each semester towards acquiring the 120 credits required for the undergraduate degree, with an eye toward securing employment and/or continuing their education after release from prison.

According to the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform, educating felons while they are behind bars can reduce recidivism.

“Too often prisoners complete a period of incarceration without addressing their educational needs,” the group was quoted as saying in a press release. “Maryland could be using education more extensively and effectively to reduce recidivism, improve public safety, to improve the lives of formerly incarcerated persons and their family members, and to build the human capital of Maryland residents.”

Currently, the University of Baltimore is the only other institution in the University System of Maryland to offer a four-year degree program to incarcerated citizens. Dr. Adams said HBCUs have to play a role in such initiatives given their role in Black communities.

“HBCUs must be involved in educating incarcerated citizens because approximately 70% of Maryland’s inmates are people of color,” said Dr. Adams. “Offering a prison education program rooted in restorative justice/practices is innovative and could prove to be beneficial to incarcerated citizens as well as the community they will ultimately return to when they are released from Jessup.”

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