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Lawmaker wants to offer tuition free courses for inmates

Posted at 9:20 PM, Jan 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-30 23:42:35-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn (WTVF) — Free college for Tennessee inmates? It could soon be a thing.

Just last Friday, 23 inmates at the Turney Center Industrial Complex added a college degree to their resumes. This day was possible thanks to a partnership with the Tennessee Higher Education Initiative as well as the Northwest Correctional Complex.

Now there's one lawmaker who wants to expand the educational opportunities for Tennessee inmates.

"Education is the key in changing your lifestyle or before you even progress it," said Rep. Barbara Cooper.

Representative Cooper filed a proposal which would allow those who are incarcerated to enroll in courses offered by a state university or community college through the Tennessee Reconnect Grant Program.

"There are certain inmates who especially if they have a high school diploma to take advantage of reconnect," Cooper said.

Reconnect is a statewide grant that covers tuition for people who want to earn a associate degree or technical certificate. Cooper says it's a brilliant program but it has it stipulations.

"If you served some time you can't get the grants, you can't get federal funding, you can't get state funding, you can't get anything," said Cooper.

Copper says this bill will give inmates an opportunity to succeed and not to repeat past mistakes.

"The recidivism rate hasn't dropped very much since I've been here in the statehouse; and I said this is one of the ways where maybe we can reduce the recidivism," Cooper said.

If this bill becomes law it will take effect July 1, 2019 and it should apply to students enrolling in courses that lead to the competition of an eligible program of study on or after that date.