MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — Men at the Muskegon Correctional Facility have a new opportunity to earn a degree through the Hope-Western Prison Education Program. 

The program started as a pilot in March of 2019, but now it has approval from the Higher Learning Commission. That means, the Muskegon Correctional Facility can be used as an additional location for Hope College to offer instruction, and incarcerated students will be recognized as an official part of the student body.

“We’re very grateful to everyone who is helping us do this. There are a lot of partners involved and this is not something that is easily achieved or easily accomplished,” said Hope professor and program director Dr. Richard Ray. 

The college has launched into the degree phase with a cohort of 12 students and anticipates recruiting and admitting 20 additional students every year for the next four years until the program is fully enrolled at 80 students.

Ray said program leaders look to graduates of the Hope-Western Prison Education Program to be leaders in their communities, even if that community is behind bars.

“Any time a person can receive a college education they come out the other end of that experience different and changed. This is true for anybody I think that goes to college and I think it will be true for these men as well,” Ray said. “We hope that they experience a degree of personal transformation but beyond that, we hope that their growth and maturity and education will be put to use in trying to soften and improve the prison culture of which they’re apart.”

Inmates will be enrolled in a major created specifically for them, called Faith, Leadership, and Service. Those who successfully complete the program will receive a bachelor’s degree from Hope College. 

The program is funded by donors so it won’t cost anything for inmates. Dr. Ray explained that similar programs have led to major reductions in misconduct incidents, fewer instances of parolees returning to prison after they’re released, and increases in post-release employment.