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Mississippi Valley State University recently announced that they’ll be offering a newly created prison college program, making it the first HBCU in the state to do so.
Known as “Valley State’s Prison Educational Partnership Program,” or “PEPP,” the program will give people in prison the opportunity to earn a four-year degree by offering them a variety of classes starting from Fall 2022; the classes being offered will be based on the students’ transcripts, according to the article by Mississippi Valley State University, but are predicted to revolve around business, computer science and engineering.
Using a fund from Project Freedom, an initiative that supports adding more Black and Latino instructors as educators in the prison college programs through support for HBCUs, the educators from the university will receive training from Jamii Sisterhood. Known as a nonprofit, Jamii Sisterhood uses community building as a way to prepare teachers for their new roles.
“At Mississippi Valley State University, regardless of where a student is when they come in, we try to make sure that we nourish them,” Rochelle McGee-Cobbs, the associate professor who will be the director of PEPP, said per Mississippi Today.” We try to make sure that we cater to the needs of each student.”
The program’s created in partnership with the U.S. government’s “Second Chance Pell Experiment” Program. With Pell Grants, the new students will be able to afford to get a degree by receiving financial aid based on income.
The Second Chance Pell Experiment initiative was first launched in 2015 by then-President Obama and was recently expanded on by President Biden in April. With an expansion that has 200 schools participating in the program, the program promises to “support reentry and empower formerly incarcerated persons,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The announcement of the Mississippi Valley State University’s new participation in the initiative comes after a Mississippi prison was found guilty of “systemic failures,” according to the New York Times.
In April, investigators found that officials at Mississippi State Penitentiary, the largest prison in the state, would routinely fail to get the prisoners mental health and suicide counseling and would do nothing to protect them when things would get violent. As a result of their negligence, 10 inmates were murdered and a dozen took their own lives in the past three years.
With their new program, the Mississippi Valley State University’s helping address the reported negligence of the mental health of prisoners in Mississippi by offering more than just classes. Along with the lessons, the HBCU promises to give the new students access to financial aid offices as well as the university’s counseling services; the school also reports that they’re also working on offering the students access to assistance following their release with a partnership.
“From my perspective, it’s the right thing to do,” said Dr. Kathie Stromile Golden, the university’s Provost, per Mississippi Today. “It’s needed. It’s a win-win for our community.”