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Wyoming prisoners will be able to get bachelor's degrees thanks to a federal program

Long distance shot from the road of Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins. White buildings can be seen in the distance over scrub land, with tall, flat hills in the background.
Courtesy of Stuart and Jen Robertson, CC BY-SA 2.0, wikimedia
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Wyoming State Penitentiary in Rawlins is the state's maximum security prison for men.

Research shows that receiving a college education behind bars dramatically reduces a prisoner's chances of winding up in prison a second time. A new grant program will help Wyoming prisoners achieve that.

The University of Wyoming's Pathways from Prison program provides free college courses to Wyoming's inmates. It's funded by a hodge podge of grants, donations and volunteer time on the part of university professors.

Previously, the program has only been able to offer isolated, one-off courses. But that's changing. A federal program called the Second Chance Pell Grant Experiment has invited UW to participate. This means Wyoming prisoners can get federal money to pay for college while they're incarcerated.

Pathways from Prison co-director Rob Colter said prisoners will now be able to earn four-year bachelor's degrees.

"Now we're going to be able to have a fully self-sustaining program," he said. "We're going to start by developing a cohort at the Wyoming's Women Center in Lusk and start providing the classes they need to be able to complete a four-year degree in about four-years. It's a huge quantum jump for what we’re able to do."

Inmates in Lusk might be able to start on those four-year degrees as early as this fall.

In the United States, the majority of incarcerated people will find themselves rearrested and reincarcerated. But research shows that prisoners who receive even just one college course behind bars are significantly less likely to wind up back in prison. Those who receive bachelor's degrees behind bars are even less likely.

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