Bowie State University is now the first HBCU in Maryland to offer a degree program for individuals incarcerated at a state correctional facility.

Through the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Bowie State is offering an educational program that will allow incarcerated citizens at Maryland’s Jessup Correctional Institution to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology and an optional Entrepreneurship Certificate.

According to the university, Bowie State’s prison education program builds on its designation as a Second Chance Pell Grant awardee, which allows incarcerated individuals the opportunity to receive Pell Grants to participate in college and university educational programs.  Incarcerated students who apply and are accepted into the university will have all fees and tuition covered by the Pell Grants.

“The university’s prison education program is embedded in our Restorative Justice and Practices Institute which enables us the opportunity to inject the principles of restoration, reconciliation, harms and needs, and empowerment into the curriculum,” said Dr. Charles Adams, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Bowie State.

“We want to inspire each individual in the program to strive for personal and educational freedom while they embrace the journey of becoming whole again.”

– Dr. Charles Adams, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Bowie State.

All courses will be offered at the Jessup Correctional Institute and participants must meet certain requirements.

To participate in the program, incarcerated citizens must have graduated from high school or successfully completed their GED. 

The university reports that the first cohort of seven students began courses this week and range in age from the early twenties to over 50. They will take four courses each semester while pursuing their degrees in sociology with the goal of securing jobs or continuing their education after they are released from prison.

A bachelor’s degree in sociology requires 120 credits that focuses on a liberal arts education. The sociology undergraduate degree prepares students for leadership and responsibility in government, and the private sector and equips them for success in graduate school and life.

“HBCUs must be involved in educating incarcerated citizens because approximately 70% of Maryland’s inmates are people of color”

– Dr. Charles Adams, chair of the Department of Criminal Justice at Bowie State.

“Offering a prison education program rooted in restorative justice/practices is innovative and could prove to be beneficial to incarcerated citizens as well as the community they will ultimately return to when they are released from Jessup,” said Dr. Adams.

The University of Baltimore is the only other institution in the University System of Maryland to offer a four-year degree program to incarcerated citizens. According to the Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform, “too often prisoners complete a period of incarceration without addressing their educational needs. Education behind bars reduces recidivism. Maryland could be using education more extensively and effectively to reduce recidivism, improve public safety, to improve the lives of formerly incarcerated persons and their family members, and to build the human capital of Maryland residents.”