Bowie State University is the first HBCU to offer Maryland inmates the opportunity to complete study courses. Since the initiative launched last January, seven men incarcerated at Jessup Correctional Institution have completed their first semester. They are studying to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology or an Entrepreneurship Certificate.

“This program has been wildly successful,” Dr. Charles Adams, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Bowie State, said in a press release. “Our goal is to educate and help inspire these men to make meaningful changes in their lives so they’re better prepared to reintegrate into society after they are released. With the proliferation of AI and other technologies, it is imperative returning citizens have skills that can translate into a job market that is constantly changing.”

Today, the program is expanding to 10 new students, as well as incarcerated women now able to participate. The new cohort will include 10 to 20 women who are within 12 months of being released from the institution. They will be offered a restorative justice program broken down into four courses.

“The courses are designed to serve as career pathways to encourage women to pursue education, sociology or other degrees since female offenders are often invisible and programs are not designed to meet their needs,” Dr. Matasha Harris, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and coordinator of the women’s program, said. “With female incarcerated citizen populations surging in Maryland, it is imperative Bowie State is there to meet their needs, particularly since most of them are women of color.”

In Maryland, Black people make up 71% of the incarcerated population but only 29% of the state’s, according to a 2021 report by The Sentencing Project. The program’s organizers highlight the importance of rehabilitation after incarceration, which can be brought about by obtaining a college degree.

“This program is important to every citizen of Maryland because 90% of those who come in come back out,” Adams told The Baltimore Banner. “It’s far more damaging to release someone who is ill equipped.”

People who participate in educational programs during their incarceration are 48% less likely to return to prison than those who don’t, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.

The program for men was made possible through the Second Chance Pell Grant, while the women’s program was funded through a four-year $385,000 grant from the State of Maryland.

Still, students are calling for additional resources to cover equipment as well as more time with instructors.

Jermain Williams, a 37-year-old student, said he would like to see more books, a printer and a projector. He also noted he may need additional tutoring. The sentiment is echoed by Mark Booker, one of the instructors, who has heard students’ pleas concerning access to more classes and access to online research journals.

For Lois Davis, a senior policy researcher of correctional education at the Rand Corp, it would help the class “think of themselves not as an inmate but as a student.”