Marian University teams up with women’s prison to offer inmates chance to earn degrees

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Marian University is hoping its new initiative makes a difference in the lives of women in prison. The university has teamed up with the Indiana Women’s Prison to give inmates the chance to earn an associate's degree while behind bars through the Women’s College Partnership.

Sixteen inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison are currently getting the chance to further their education through a joint venture between Marian and the Bard Prison Initiative.

Since 2017, the university’s Director of Educational Services, Lesley Neff, has been working to bring the program to the prison.

"They may come in with transfer credit. They may have credit from other institutions so some of them may only need four or five courses to complete an associate’s degree while others may be starting from scratch," Neff said.

Jenny Ambrose is one of the faculty members teaching the students. She says teaching inside the prison has its challenges.

"My students from last semester on campus were allowed an enormous variety of materials from skeleton keys, to peacock feathers, to fabric and sewing machines. In this scenario, my students are using cardboard and tape," Ambrose said.

She said at the same time, it’s rewarding.

"Some of them have very practical aspirations of wanting to use their degree once they are out and wanting a career," Ambrose said.

Neff said inmates at the Indiana Women’s Prison have the opportunity to set themselves up for success once they’re released. She said once students earn their 64 credits they’ll have an associate's degree.

"A lot of these women are going to be reentering society and they are going to want to be productive members of society and support their families," Lesley Neff said.

She believes education is key for inmates to stay on a positive path once they’re released.

Marian University says sometimes it can be difficult for a former inmate to land a job with a felony on their background, but says most women will enter into the public health field once they’re released.

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