Prison changed Jose Bou’s life in a way he never expected.
While serving a 12-year sentence for drug trafficking, Bou earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University through a special program for incarcerated students. Since his release seven years ago, Bou has become a community college professor and a mentor to others caught up in the correctional system.
Inmates like Bou are a rarity in Massachusetts; higher education degree programs have long been available to just a small number of prisoners in a few correctional institutions at any given time. Now, that’s about to change: A new consortium of more than a dozen Massachusetts colleges plans to help make the chance to earn a college degree accessible to more inmates throughout the state.
Bou says the initiative could transform many more lives.
“We need a real education,” said Bou, 43. “It’s nice to give them work skills and fatherhood skills, but I need a piece of paper that puts me close to equal footing with the rest of the workforce.”
The Educational Justice Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was recently awarded a $250,000 grant from the Vera Institute of Justice and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to develop a “pipeline” for incarcerated people to get their degree.
The grant funds the development of a partnership between participating Massachusetts colleges and law enforcement agencies to offer college courses behind bars and ensure that inmates graduate, either while still in prison or after their release. It’s not yet clear how many students the program will reach. The colleges involved in the initiative represent a broad spectrum of higher educational institutions in Massachusetts, from community colleges to members of the Ivy League.