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IN lawmakers examine college courses for inmates

The Indiana Department of Corrections may soon gain the authority to approve the educational courses inmates can take for degree credit under a change proposed in a legislative study committee. 

The Department of Corrections currently works with six universities and colleges to provide degree programs to inmates.  A new proposal presented to the Criminal Code Evaluation Commission would provide the DOC with authority to approve which courses inmates can take for credit. That means even if a course would count towards a traditional college degree, an inmate would have to receive approval from the department.

Commission chairman Ralph Foley says the whole purpose of the education program is to help inmates make a smooth transition to life after prison.

“We want to incentivize that course of education that leads to employment.”

However, Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis), who sits on the commission, says the Department of Corrections shouldn’t have the authority to mandate what classes inmates can take.

“It’s about like saying, if I take a theology course, that that’s not going to be useful.  A theology course could really change who I am as a person.  Learning about the Bible and religion in itself could change my life, but it may not have an effect of creating a job opportunity in the future.”

Foley says inmates would have the opportunity to make their case to the Department of Corrections why they should be allowed to take a certain course.

The commission is scheduled to vote on a comprehensive criminal justice reform package at the end of the month.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.