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MN program providing incarcerated students chance to earn diplomas graduates newest class


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    LINO LAKES, Minnesota (WCCO) — A celebration for completing higher education while completing their debt to society.

“I did this to right a wrong if you will,” said Jamar Brown, an inmate at Lino Lakes Correctional Facility.

Brown was convicted of second-degree unintentional murder as a 17 year old. He’s now 22, and isn’t scheduled to get out until he’s 30.

“A life not on pause. You’ve got make sure you coming home with tools to not come back to this place, man,” said Brown.

That’s the goal of TREC (Transformation and Reentry Through Education and Community), a collaboration between Minneapolis College, Metro State University, University of Minnesota, and Lino Lakes Correctional Facility that started in 2021.

It provides eligible incarcerated students the opportunity to graduate with a diploma, certificate, or degree.

It’s difficult to complete college behind bars.

“It’s like holding your breath and trying to breathe at the same time,” said Ronald Thomas, an inmate at Lino Lakes Correctional Facility.

Thomas was convicted of criminal sexual misconduct. He’s been in jail since 2008 and has five years to go.

“You can look at this two ways. You can look at this as punishment or you can look at it as an opportunity to change. I chose the opportunity to change,” said Thomas.

There’s a case to be made for education in prisons. A RAND Corporation study found inmates who participate in programs like TREC are up to 43% less likely to reoffend and return to prison.

While Brown celebrates with his sister and a high school teacher who fully supports him, he knows there are people who don’t believe he should have educational opportunities.

“Do you want him in there, idle time, thinking about how he’s going to wreak havoc on his community once he get out? Our do you want him in there learning new things so when he comes home has a degree? He’s looking at the world with a different lens,” said Brown.

Now that Brown has earned an Associate degree in Philosophy through Minneapolis College, he’s thinking about going on to become a professor.

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