Photo via https://www.yaleprisoneducationinitiative.org/
On Friday, a special graduation ceremony was held by Yale in collaboration with the University of New Haven (UNH) in which seven students in the State of Connecticut were received their two- and four-year college degrees. What is so remarkable is the fact that these degrees were awarded by an Ivy League university to the inmates of MacDougall-Walker Correctional Facility.
Educational programs for inmates are a relatively new experience for modern U.S. prisons. Only about 20% of current inmates are offered the opportunity for higher education while serving their sentences. This is despite the fact that studies have unanimously shown the enormous benefits of prison education, both in terms of improved behavior and discipline, but also the successful rehabilitation of prisoners after release. Only $1 invested in prison education is estimated to bring a five-fold return back to taxpayers in just three years.
MacDougall-Walker, the largest correctional facility in New England, is part of one of the most high-profile programs in this vein the U.S. The program was launched in 2016 on the initiative of Zelda Roland of Yale, and now covers over 15 schools and prison systems across the nation. This includes a federal women’s prison in Danbury, one-hour drive from MacDougall-Walker.
The graduation ceremony was presided over by Governor Ned Lamont, who spoke about the hopeful prospects of the program and its promise for both the inmates and the wider state population. Governor Lamond said: “We define our own futures and today is the start of that. You learn from the past, but you define your own future. And what happens in your future is going to be your legacy. And I want you to have a really important story to tell.”
Marcus Harvin, one of the seven inmates who successfully completed their courses last week, was interviewed by The Associated Press. He had just been released after serving six years for a drunken driving accident, and returned to the facility Friday to receive his associate degree in General Studies from UNH.
Harvin, who is Black and a father of two, keeps both his prison and Yale student I.D. cards on him at all times. He tearfully declared during the special ceremony: “That name, Yale, means so much because I’m from New Haven and to be able to study at Yale and begin studying in prison is unheard of. People even think I’m lying sometimes, so I’ll show them my jail I.D. and my Yale I.D.”
Harvin is grateful to have received the opportunity to pursue higher studies. “It literally is the light at the end of the tunnel that gives the day illumination,” he said. “Because when you get to those classes, you don’t feel like you’re in prison. You actually go from being in a cell to being kind of, sort of on a campus. You literally feel like you’re not in the same place anymore.”
learn more about the initiate at www.yaleprisoneducationinitiative.org