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HBCU Lane College Holds Historic Graduation Inside Tennessee Prison

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by Paulina Isaac

November 30, 2023

Lane College is making history.

The HBCU partnered with Tennessee Higher Education Initiative (THEI) to help educate men and women behind the wall. THEI is a non-profit organization working to disrupt systems of harm and create opportunities for autonomy and success. It achieves its goal by providing college access to people inside Tennessee prisons, preparing students for skillful re-entry, and reducing barriers to continued education and achievement.

Earlier this month, six men incarcerated at the Northwest Correctional Complex (NWCX) walked across the stage to receive their Bachelor of Science in Business degree from Lane College.

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“They are coming home,” stated Dr. Laura Ferguson-Mimms, Executive Director of THEI. “We are breaking the cycle of recidivism that tells us that 47 percent will return to incarceration if we continue to do exactly what we have always done.”

The NWCX graduates were the first to ever receive a bachelor’s degree in the prison’s history. The students were also the first in the state of Tennessee to receive degrees from an HBCU while incarcerated.

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Dr. Ferguson-Mimms continued, “When we introduce post-secondary educational options while the individual is incarcerated, we reduce the risk of recidivism by nearly half. I will always remember the first day of classes at NWCX. The lecture was supposed to be online, but the president came to speak to the students in person. He talked about the history of Lane College and the legacy of HBCUs as a tool for Black liberation. The students were absolutely mesmerized.”

Lane’s President, Dr. Logan Hampton, shared after the graduation ceremony, “Lane College and THEI have been a natural fit. Lane is deeply committed to transformative liberal arts education, and Lane College has a history of helping students excel despite challenging environments and backgrounds. The Lane faculty were confident they could ensure the full integrity of college access for incarcerated students, and they have. The Lane/THEI partnership has been an overwhelming success!”

(Cover photo: Lane College Graduation/Photo by Tennessee Department of Correction)

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