Home Career Incarcerated Colorado students may be released early to graduate from college

Incarcerated Colorado students may be released early to graduate from college


People incarcerated for non-violent crimes in Colorado can get a reprieve if they earn a college degree or diploma.

Supporters of House Bill 1037, which the House Judiciary Committee approved 11-2, say it would help incarcerated Coloradans find new opportunities and reduce the likelihood of reoffending after release, as well as save the state money.

The bill provides incentives for state prisoners federal grants available to them starting this summer. The federal government has also increased the number of colleges and universities that can educate incarcerated students, opening up new opportunities.

State Rep. Matthew Martinez, D-Monte Vista, who is sponsoring the bill, told the Judiciary Committee that financial aid would remove the biggest obstacle facing incarcerated students who want to attend college.

“We’re getting them back on track and really changing their lives,” said Martinez, who previously ran Adams Prison University’s education program. State Sen. Julie Gonzalez, D-Denver, is also sponsoring the bill.

Bikram Mishra, who testified before the committee, said that during his 10 years in a Colorado correctional facility, his family helped pay for his college tuition. It changed his life, he said, and he wants to make college accessible to other people in prison.

“We’re trying to help people get better, and we’re trying to make sure they’re ready for society,” Mishra said.

If signed into law, Colorado would allow students convicted of non-violent crimes to earn up to six months in jail if they earn a college diploma or certificate. It will also allow them to postpone their deferment for a year if they graduate with an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree.

However, some Republican and Democratic lawmakers during the hearings advocated increasing the amount of time incarcerated students would receive early release. Some worried that a one-year deferment would not be enough to attract students to degree programs and would instead seek short-term programs.

The bill would split the money the state saves from early release of incarcerated students between post-secondary institutions and the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Republican state Reps. Matt Soper of Delta and Stephanie Luck of Penrose voted against the bill in part because they want the Colorado Department of Corrections to keep most of the savings.

But all the panel members, even those who wanted to see change, said they supported the idea of ​​encouraging people in prisons to get an education. They said testimonials from ex-prisoners who graduated from college motivated them to support the bill.

Martinez said data shows graduates are less likely to reoffend, especially if they earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree. It also means less cost to the community, he said. In 2018, Colorado had one of the worst recidivism rates in the nation – half of everything ex-prisoners returned to the prison for three years. National studies, however, show that incarcerated people are less likely to reoffend if they have access to education.

Kristi Donner, executive director of the Colorado Coalition for Criminal Justice Reform, said giving incarcerated people an opportunity to learn in prison goes beyond what it saves the state. The bill represents start more conversations to make sure prisoners see a future for themselvesshe said.

“Education helps you see yourself differently,” Donner said, “you have different ambitions and hopes and dreams and all that good stuff. It’s really deep. And it’s a lot better than just doing license plates, sweeping the floor, or working in the kitchen. People can find a whole new life.”

Jason Gonzalez is a reporter covering higher education and the Colorado Legislature. Chalkbeat Colorado partners with Open campus on higher education coverage. Contact Jason at jgonzales@chalkbeat.org.

Source link

Previous articleInternet surge at Virginia Tech. But what about the results?
Next articleWatch: Biden Delivers 2023 State of the Union Address