Some Incarcerated People to Become College Grads at Miami Dade College

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With 96% of all incarcerated persons returning to their communities, the Institute for Educational Empowerment wants to ensure individuals are prepared to take on the challenges of re-entering society. (Pixabay)

Trimmel Gomes, Florida News Service

Eighteen incarcerated students will become college graduates Tuesday at Everglades Correctional Institution in South Florida.

Imagine taking an Intro to Constitutional Law class while serving a sentence. A group of 20 students joined the first class of the Second Chance Pell Experiment program in 2021. It offers federal Pell grants to imprisoned individuals, so they can earn a postsecondary education.

Samantha Carlo, co-director of the Institute of Educational Empowerment at Miami Dade College, which facilitates the program, said the success rate for the first class is pretty remarkable considering the many constraints of teaching in prison. The group of 18 out of 20 are set to receive associate degrees.

“Students in Cohort One who will still be incarcerated, all of them are matriculating into our bachelor’s degree in business, specifically in Supervision and Management,” Carlo explained. “The students will continue on while incarcerated to get their bachelor’s degree.”

Carlo noted two students have been released, and both are employed in the nonprofit sector. She credits their experience, college credits and their abilities for securing jobs before graduation, which is set for 5:30 p.m. at the Everglades Correctional Institution. The second class of students selected in January is already underway.

Carlo emphasized many of the participants, who are now in their 40s and 50s, said they regret not realizing the benefit of an education when they were younger and are grateful for the opportunity to rebound from their mistakes. Carlo added it is why the program is currently focused on issuing degrees in business.

“We selected the business degree because it is most open and most forgiving with people who have felony convictions on their records,” Carlo acknowledged. “So it will ultimately prepare them to work in an industry that requires some business training.”

Carlo stressed the program helps reduce recidivism and anyone with a high school diploma or GED at Everglades can apply for enrollment, but showing proof of Florida residency to obtain funding is the biggest challenge since being incarcerated doesn’t count.

Carlo stated the program tries to work with interested individuals to find the required proof of residency one year prior to them being locked up.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.