Waupun inmates make state history, earn four-year degrees

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 4:59 PM CDT
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WAUPUN, Wis. (WMTV) - A first of its kind graduation took place Tuesday, not in an auditorium, or a gymnasium, but inside a prison.

A group of 20 inmates at the Waupun Correctional Institution made history. They graduated with a four-year bachelor’s degree.

This is the first time the Wisconsin Dept. of Corrections (DOC) has sponsored this kind of inmate education program.

“It’s been an experience like no other,” 34-year-old August White said. White has been behind bars for the last 16 years.

The 20 graduates, including White, all received a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies with a minor in Psychology through Trinity International University (TIU).

“I never expected this opportunity to be presented in prison, it was just non-existent,” White said.

Right now, this program is only offered at Waupun Correctional Institution. Fifteen out of 20 graduates, including White, made the decision to transfer from lower level security prisons, into Waupun’s maximum security prison solely, to earn their degrees.

“What that can do is help people be prepared for re-entry. because a lot of times, people are sitting around doing nothing, opportunities like this help people be more proactive with their life.”

“They’ll be able to earn higher wages, be able to support themselves and their families,” Dr. Silvia Jackson, DOC Re-entry Director said.

Jackson added that a bachelor’s degree looks much better to employers when inmates are released back into society.

“We want other people to have these opportunities in our institutions,” Jackson said.

White hopes other inmates will seize this opportunity, and while white won’t be released from prison until 2045, he says that won’t stop him from using what he’s learned to help others around him.

“You’ve still got a future there’s a lot of stuff you can do with your time, there’s a lot of improvement you can do with yourself and there’s a lot of help you can offer others as you go on this journey,” White said.

Including the 20 inmates who graduated Tuesday, there are a total of 75 inmates enrolled in this education program.

Dept. of Corrections Sec. Kevin Carr said the agency is looking to expand this program to other prisons in Wisconsin. Carr added that the DOC is currently speaking with other universities about expanding the program.

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