On June 16th, a group of nine inmates from Walker State Prison in Georgia achieved a significant milestone by earning their associate’s degrees. The degrees were awarded after the completion of 60 credit hours of coursework accomplished during their incarceration. This small yet significant ceremony was a testimony to the efforts of these inmates and the Georgia State University’s Prison Education Project (PEP), which facilitated this accomplishment.

The PEP program was launched in 2016 with the primary objective to provide college courses to prisons across Georgia. Walker State Prison and Phillips State in Buford are among the facilities where these courses are offered. Additionally, enrichment courses are also being provided at the federal U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta and other facilities throughout the state. The ultimate goal is to extend this associate’s degree program to five more Georgia penitentiaries by 2025.

The director of PEP, Patrick Rodriguez, is optimistic about the positive impact of education on recidivism rates among prisoners. He expressed his belief stating, “I believe that we can serve all facilities here in the state of Georgia to begin reducing our incarceration numbers and amount of people on probation and parole,” during an interview with Fox 5 Atlanta.

Indeed, education has proven to be a potent tool in reducing recidivism rates. Many graduates reported feeling empowered by their new skills and knowledge, expressing their desire to make valuable contributions to society upon their release. One graduate shared his aspirations during his commencement speech saying, “My long-term goal is to use the skills I’ve learned and developed to make positive and meaningful contributions,” he further added confidently, “My immediate goals are to help others reach their education goals and learn how better decisions”. This sentiment was echoed by the other eight graduates who accepted their diplomas with pride, marking a truly remarkable occasion for them.

Photo Credit: Georgia State University’s Prison Education Project