Tennessee HBCU Partnership Holds Historic Graduation Inside Prison

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Early this mpnth six men incarcerated at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) marched across the stage to receive their Bachelor of Science in Business degree from Lane College. Their educational trajectory is a continuation of historical and momentous strides made by the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative (THEI) to help educate men and women behind the wall.

The graduates were the first to receive a bachelor’s degree in the facility’s history. To add to the list of firsts, the students were also the first in the state of Tennessee to receive degrees from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) while incarcerated. 

THEI along with educational partners Lane College and the Tennessee Department of Correction celebrated the fortitude and commitment of the six men who have shifted the course of history in the state of Tennessee, by forging a path for others to follow. Each student is a testament to the indomitable spirit of resilience our brothers behind the wall possess when given opportunities to excel and engage with the transformative and liberative power of education that was paved with sacrifice.

“They are coming home,” stated Dr. Laura Ferguson-Mimms, Executive Director of THEI. “We are breaking the cycle of recidivism that tells us that 47% will return to incarceration if we continue to do exactly what we have always done.”

Dr. Ferguson-Mimms continued, “When we introduce post-secondary educational options while the individual is incarcerated, we reduce the risk of recidivism by nearly half. I will always remember the first day of classes at NWCX. The lecture was supposed to be online, but the president came to speak to the students in person. He talked about the history of Lane College and the legacy of HBCUs as a tool for Black liberation. The students were absolutely mesmerized.”

Lane’s President Dr. Logan Hampton shared after the graduation ceremony, “Lane College and THEI have been a natural fit. Lane is deeply committed to the transformative liberal arts education, and Lane College has a history of helping students excel despite challenging environments and backgrounds. The Lane faculty were confident they could ensure the full integrity of college access for incarcerated students, and they have. The Lane/THEI partnership has been an overwhelming success!”

Senior Advisor Richard Donnell, Sr. to the President, shared, “Lane College has an academic focus on tomorrow, not yesterday, and helping students to realize the power of their potential has been a hallmark of Lane College since 1882. We continue to be excited about the partnership with THEI, and we are confident in Lane’s ability to help students of diverse backgrounds earn their college degrees.”

Daryll Coleman, Vice President for Academic Affairs, added “The Lane College faculty have aggressively researched the best behind-the-wall academic programs in the nation and developed a rigorous program that maintains the full integrity of college access while preparing incarcerated students with a career-ready and transformative liberal arts education. Lane is grateful for our amazing faculty and their insistence that we develop a best-in-class program to reach incarcerated scholars.”

About THEI
Tennessee Higher Education in Prison Initiative (THEI) is a non-profit organization working to disrupt systems of harm and create opportunities for autonomy and success by providing college access to people inside Tennessee prisons, preparing students for skillful re-entry, and reducing barriers to continued education and achievement.

About Lane College
Lane College was established in 1882 and is in Jackson, Tennessee. The residential campus has thirty-six buildings sprawling across 55 acres and is one of America’s oldest HBCUs. The College provides a deeply transformative undergraduate education – intellectually, spiritually, and socially – and has award-winning programs and career credentials in dozens of majors and minors.

Lane is consistently ranked as one of America’s most affordable private colleges. In addition to affordability, Lane has no application fee, no standardized test requirement, and has an outstanding record of creating accessibility to higher education for first-generation college students. Lane College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate and baccalaureate degrees.

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