First class in Second Chance Pell Program

A group of 22 inmates at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute (MIC) received their small business management certificate last month from Mount Wachusett Community College (MWCC) as part of a national pilot program designed to provide education as a means of reducing recidivism and easing the transition out of prison.

“Many of the students had their families visiting for the ceremony and it was fantastic to see the pride and joy on their faces,” said MWCC President James Vander Hooven of the graduation ceremony he attended on June 13 with other MWCC staff members. “This program is so important and vital to our mission. I am committed to providing these opportunities in the future.”

Of the 22 students who graduated from the eight-class program, six finished with a perfect 4.0 GPA and 16 achieved high honors.

MWCC is one of 65 colleges and universities participating in the Second Chance Pell Pilot Program after being selected by the U.S. Department of Education in 2016. The college is the only school from Massachusetts participating in the program, which is part of a national effort aimed at reducing recidivism and strengthening communities by providing education and job training to eligible inmates.

A second chance for people in prison

The pilot program funded educational opportunities for 12,000 eligible incarcerated individuals at more than 100 correctional institutions in 27 states through Pell grants with the goal of helping them get jobs and support through higher education. It involved the temporary suspension of the 1994 crime bill that restricted the use of Pell funding for those in state and federal custody.

MWCC partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections to provide academic programs to inmates at MIC in Shirley, North Central Correctional Institute and the Federal Medical Center. Students in the pilot program took classes to get a small business management certificate to help them prepare to start their own business or enter the pipeline of additional education.

“Over 90 percent of incarcerated individuals will return to our communities, so it is incumbent upon us that we provide these returning citizens the skills needed to become productive members of society,” said MCI-Shirley Education Supervisor Meghan Crowley. “Education is a sound investment to help reduce recidivism. Our partnership with Mount Wachusett and its small business certificate program is one key aspect to reach this goal.”

A 2013 RAND Corporation study found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every $1 invested in correctional education programs, $4 to $5 are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

Prisoner education, Pell grants and what you can do

About the Author

Sam Bonacci
is a communications specialist with Mount Wachusett Community College in Massachusetts.