Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina has just established a new program to directly lend a hand to incarcerated individuals with dreams of higher education. The promising Pathways from Prison Program is the result of a historic partnership between Claflin and the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC). In a move that will offset the difficulty of being hired with a record, soon inmates will be able to earn their bachelor’s degrees at no cost!

Beginning sometime in early 2021, inmates will have three different bachelor’s programs to choose from through Claflin’s Center for Professional and Continuing Studies. The two B.A. programs include a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. The single B.S. program is a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management. The inmates will also be able to add a minor to their degree program, and earn certificate credentials.

South Carolina Department of Corrections Inmates, courtesy of Compassionate Criminal Justice

This ground-breaking partnership is part of a larger drive to educate incarcerated people. As part of a initiative under President Barack Obama to get the incarcerated university credentials, Claflin University was selected as a U.S. Department of Education Second Chance Pell Experimental Site in April 2020. The Columbia, S.C. non-profit Healthy Routines will also be assisting the program by offering non-credit college preparation courses to the students.

Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack, President of Claflin University shared how this partnership plays into Claflin’s larger mission of service.

“Claflin’s Pathways from Prison Program, Second Chance Pell Grant, and our Center for Social Justice all reflect Claflin’s deep and abiding commitment to expanding access to exceptional educational opportunities that can change the trajectory of people’s lives,” said Dr. Warmack. “It’s in our DNA. Claflin was founded as the first HBCU in South Carolina and the first institution of higher education in the state that welcomed all students regardless of ethnic origin, gender, race, or religion. A quality education is the gateway to empowerment and plays a critical role in the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated people into their respective communities.”

Claflin University, courtesy of Boston University

Although the program hasn’t launched yet, there is already an opportunity for inmates to apply through the South Carolina Department of Corrections. The SCDC’s Director, Bryan Stirling, is excited at the chance the Pathways from Prison Program provides for rehabilitation.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for our inmates to better themselves and receive an education,” Stirling said. “Our goal is to return citizens to the community with skills to succeed, and a college degree can put them on that path. We appreciate this important partnership. This program will give inmates the opportunity to leave prison with a college degree, something that can transform not only their life but the lives of their family members as well.”

Jay Holder, Director of Public Affairs at Healthy Routines, went through a personal transformation when he was able to get an education during his incarceration. He now also serves on Columbia University’s National Executive Council at its Center for Justice.

“I took advantage of school while inside and I’m in college now that I’m home,” Holder said. 

“In less than 20 months after being released, I was able to use the college in prison experience to not only establish new pathways to the university for currently incarcerated people, the returning citizen, and myself – I have also been able to use education to build meaningful relationships with conglomerates who are making a clear effort to improve our communities. Education is real. It takes you places you never knew you could go. The university is the cornerstone to both mobility and public safety,” Holder said.