Liberal Arts in Prison pilot program - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Liberal Arts in Prison pilot program

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Inmates at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility will soon be able to take classes for college credit. The University of Vermont is teaming up with the correctional facility for classes beginning next spring.

Ten women took a class with UVM undergrads on criminal justice. One says the experience was eye-opening. It was two years ago that Bryenna Sheldon was arrested for the sale and possession of heroin. Now, at 24, she is about a month away from getting out and she wants to have a clean start.

"I never thought about college before and never would have thought it would have been an opportunity for me," Sheldon said.

She recently completed the Liberal Arts in Prison pilot program set up by the University of Vermont.

"It betters my chances of survival when I get out," Sheldon said. "It gives me more opportunities."

According to the Vermont Department of Corrections, the rate of repeat offenders in Vermont is 15 percent below the national average. That rate drops to 24 percent if the inmate had a high school diploma and 5 percent if they had four years of college under their belt, according to a study out of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Texas.

"People who are punished for the crimes, the punishment is the deprivation of their liberty but that doesn't mean they shouldn't have opportunities that other people do. Especially to improve themselves which will ultimately lead to greater public safety," said Kathy Fox, the pilot program teacher.

Fox says it's important to educate prisoners since many of them return to society after serving time. According to the Bureau of Justice, 95 percent of inmates in the U.S. do get out eventually.

"You want us to get out into the community and do good, well give us incentives and opportunities to do good and we can," Sheldon said.

Sheldon didn't receive a diploma or any college credit, but she was awarded a certificate of completion and that's all the motivation she says she needs.

"To show my dad and brother and sisters at home I'm trying to change. I'm trying to do better, I'm trying to do the right thing," she said.

The program will be completely financed through fundraising efforts and donors.

As for Sheldon, she says when she gets out, she wants to apply to Keene State. If that doesn't work, she will go to community college.

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