Mid-South college offers degree program to Tennessee inmates

College courses offered to inmates in fight against recidivism

DYERSBURG, Tenn. (WMC) - There has been a societal push in recent years to reform the criminal justice system. One local community college says they’re doing just that, fighting recidivism by offering college courses to incarcerated students. Now the program is expanding.

Since 2017, Dyersburg State Community College has offered college courses toward an associate’s degree in business administration to prisoners at Northwest Correctional Complex.

Teachers from the community college who go into the prison to teach have been amazed with the results.

“They found the prisons were just extremely well-prepared and so appreciative of their efforts to teach them,” said Dr. Karen Bowyer, Dyersberg State Community College president.

The teachers reported the inmates scored a full letter grade higher than their non-incarcerated classmates.

Thanks to a $918,000 grant from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s Correctional Education Initiative, Dyersburg State has expanded the program, adding 50 students from West Tennessee State Penitentiary and Women’s Therapeutic Residential Center starting this month.

“When the get out they could possibly go right to work or they could go on to a University and earn a bachelor’s degree,” said Bowyer.

“They changed my life,” said Colin Carson, a student while at Northwest Correctional Complex.

Carson took college classes while he served a five-year sentence at Northwest Correctional Complex for vehicular homicide.

“When we’re discharged from prison, we have skills and tools that will help us continue to better ourselves,” said Carson.

He says the courses did more than give him something positive to do during his sentence.

“Where I could tell my 10-year-old daughter, daddy’s in school and daddy is bettering himself,” said Carson. “Not Daddy is in prison and daddy’s doing time, you know?”

Carson has since been released and is continuing his education, working toward a sociology degree to help young adolescents prevent drug addition.

“Teach them about drug prevention and help them to be able to avoid the mistakes that I made,” said Carson.

Bowyer says the goal of the program is to give inmates tools to get a job when they’re released.

According to a three-state study conducted by the Correctional Education Association, higher education lowered long-term recidivism by 29 percent.

“We’re a community college and these prisoners, when they are released, they come back to our communities. We want them to come into the community and get employed and be a positive productive citizen,” said Bowyer.

DSCC hopes to continue being able to expand this correctional education program in the coming years.

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