A group of six Northwest Correctional Complex inmates recently earned their Bachelor of Science in Business degrees from Lane College on Nov. 2. According to Black Enterprise, it was the first time a bachelor’s degree was awarded at the facility. These students also received their degrees from a historically Black college and university while incarcerated, a first in Tennessee.

As a result of the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative, these students are continuing the history of tremendous advancements made in education for men and women behind bars.

Together with Lane College and the Tennessee Department of Correction, THEI is working to break the cycle of inmates returning to prison after being released. According to Laura Ferguson-Mimms, executive director of THEI, they ensure that inmates stay at home.

“They are coming home,” Dr. Ferguson-Mimms said. “We are breaking the cycle of recidivism that tells us that 47% will return to incarceration if we continue to do exactly what we have always done.”

“When we introduce postsecondary educational options while the individual is incarcerated, we reduce the risk of recidivism by nearly half. I will always remember the first day of classes at NWCX,” she continued. “The lecture was supposed to be online, but the president came to speak to the students in person. He talked about the history of Lane College and the legacy of HBCUs as a tool for Black liberation. The students were absolutely mesmerized.”

Lane College’s President, Dr. Logan Hampton, shared that after the graduation ceremony, his colleagues were confident and adamant about teaching incarcerated students. The program has served as a transformative experience for both the teachers and students.

“Lane College and THEI have been a natural fit. Lane is deeply committed to the transformative liberal arts education, and Lane College has a history of helping students excel despite challenging environments and backgrounds. The Lane faculty were confident they could ensure the full integrity of college access for incarcerated students, and they have. The Lane/THEI partnership has been an overwhelming success!” he said.

Senior Advisor Richard Donnell, Sr. explained the program does not educate based on one’s past but instead focuses on tomorrow’s promises.

“Lane College has an academic focus on tomorrow, not yesterday, and helping students to realize the power of their potential has been a hallmark of Lane College since 1882. We continue to be excited about the partnership with THEI, and we are confident in Lane’s ability to help students of diverse backgrounds earn their college degrees,” he shared.

The graduates followed an intensive curriculum that prepared them to be career-ready, said Daryll Coleman, vice president for Academic Affairs. With Lane’s partnership, prisoners are now equipped with the knowledge and confidence to have a fresh start. 

“The Lane College faculty have aggressively researched the best behind-the-wall academic programs in the nation and developed a rigorous program that maintains the full integrity of college access while preparing incarcerated students with a career-ready and transformative liberal arts education. Lane is grateful for our amazing faculty and their insistence that we develop a best-in-class program to reach incarcerated scholars,” Coleman said.

Congratulations to them all!