UW System developing Bachelors degree program in WI prisons

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin System is moving forward with plans to give people in state prisons a chance to earn a UW Bachelors degree while incarcerated, after receiving funding to develop a pilot program.

On Monday System officials announced they were awarded a 150 thousand dollar grant from Madison based non-profit Ascendium to develop a curriculum and infrastructure for their Prison Education Initiative.

An initiative that has been a long time passion project of System President Tommy Thompson and one he hopes will help people coming out of prison stay out.

“You go to prison, you get out and you can’t find a job or nobody wants to help you,” Thompson said. “I want to make sure that when they get out they have a skill and that’s why I’ve gone really overboard, trying to make sure that we have education in our prisons.”

According to non-profit Rand Corporation, inmates participating in prison education programs have a 43 percent lower chance of going back to prison after release.

UW-Madison Associate Law Professor Cecelia Klingele said these types of programs can be life changing for many but acknowledges there are obstacles.

“Requirements for reading levels or for other educational attainment may get in the way of allowing a lot of people who are incarcerated and who might benefit from vocational interventions in particular from being able to access those,” she explained.

To develop the program further Thompson sought funding from the state but was denied but he said the new grant funds are a good place to start.

“It’s a win-win,” he said. “Win for society because we’re gonna break recidivism and get people an opportunity to have a job and it’s certainly good for the economy.”

The Pilot program will be a collaboration between five UW universities, Greenbay, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Parkside, and Madison.

Of the roughly 23 thousand people in Wisconsin prisons 70 percent have high school diplomas and about 1 in 4 have some degree of higher education.