The Division of Prisons works tirelessly to train offenders for life back in the community. Educational and job training opportunities abound in the state’s 50-plus facilities through Correction Enterprises and other avenues, but the majority of those opportunities benefit male offenders.
Thanks to its continuing partnership with The College at Southeastern in Wake Forest, a program geared toward female offenders is now in place at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women in Raleigh.
The College at Southeastern, the undergraduate school of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, worked with state prisons to provide female offenders access to the Associate of Arts degree and Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, with a secondary emphasis on entrepreneurship. This degree program is identical to the degree offered at the college’s campus in Wake Forest.
“This has been a popular degree recently (at the college),” said Dr. Seth Bible, the director of Prison Programs at The College at Southeastern. “DPS asked us to consider something for the past three years for women that would look different than we do (Field Minister Program) at Nash (Correctional Institution) to help women get employment after incarceration. One of the best avenues is in the business sector.
“People want to start their own business but many times have to jump in with someone else to grow their business. Being incarcerated limits both men and women, especially women. We want to try to help. This degree offers the opportunity and is beneficial for employment.”
The College at Southeastern began offering this degree program to female offenders in August at the newly established Wake County Extension Center at NCCIW. Fifteen women were vetted and chosen to participate via correspondence classes as the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented professors from teaching at the facility. Once in-person instruction resumes, Southeastern professors will conduct classes in the WCEC much as they do when the N.C. Field Minister Program in-person classes resume for the male offenders at Nash Correctional Institution.
Until that time, correspondence classes will take place for eight weeks. Southeastern officials will deliver all classwork to NCCIW. Offenders will turn in their papers and other work to NCCIW administrators who will hold until Southeastern officials return to pick them up and take them to Wake Forest for review and grading.
The bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics, and economics is a traditional liberal arts degree composed of courses in economics, political philosophy, theology and culture. According to school officials, this degree fits in well with reentry and provides a substantial background for female students to pursue either a two-year or the full four-year curriculum depending on the length of time an offender has left to serve. Should an offender be released from prison after two years of classes, the credits can be transferred to another four-year school.
“We have some women with barely two years left on (their) sentence(s) and we really want them to have an opportunity when they get out,” Dr. Bible said. “The first two years of study are in general education (English, math, history and science). They have two semesters of Spanish. They could go to the College at Southeastern when they get out, but we are also trying to identify (other) educational partners around the state.”
This program is funded by the Sunshine Lady Foundation, which was started by billionaire entrepreneur Warren Buffet’s sister, Doris, in 1996. The Foundation, which also assists Joe Gibbs’ Game Plan for Life in funding the Nash ministry program, wanted to assist in starting the female program as part of its funding priorities of college degree programs in prison. This is one of about two dozen college degree programs in prisons across the country.
“Getting an education or other job skills while in prison vastly improves an offender’s chances of success when she finishes her sentence and returns to her community,” said Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee. “We want them to succeed, to live productive lives, and to give back to their communities. Our partnership with the College at Southeastern is going to be a game-changing element of our prison reform efforts.”
Another big supporter of this program is Dr. Julie Jailall, the DPS director of Education Services under the Reentry, Programs & Services unit of the Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice. Dr. Jailall sees this degree program as a “game changer for the institution and the offenders” as a way to reduce recidivism.
“This initiative started by asking questions such as, ‘What would make women productive after they leave prison?’” Dr. Jailall said. “We do want to ensure that the women can be independent and earn a living, which is why we went on this route. We want to equip them with the skills to start a business immediately if they chose to do so. A business degree sets them on that path of independence minimizing the need for them to depend on an employer for employment.”
As is the case with the Field Minister Program at Nash CI, female offenders who qualify and approved for this program will be transferred to NCCIW. However, as is the case at Nash CI, no offenders will be transferred for this program until the pandemic is under control and professors are allowed to teach inside the facility.
“Even in the COVID environment, the interest level is high,” Dr. Jailall said. “One of the best parts is funding is not a question. All of the credit goes to Dr. Bible and Southeastern, who found the funding for the program. Southeastern is very invested and we are so glad we have them as a partner.”