Proos: Michigan leads nation in new prisoner education program

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. John Proos on Wednesday led a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Corrections about the state being selected to lead the nation in a federal pilot program allowing prisoners in select facilities to take courses through three Michigan community colleges.

“Understanding that the vast majority of our prisoners will eventually return to society, the Senate passed a comprehensive criminal justice reform package focusing on reducing recidivism and helping offenders become productive citizens,” said Proos, R-St. Joseph, chairman of the subcommittee. “This is a real opportunity to reduce the cost of our prison system and revitalize our communities by giving prisoners a hand-up to successful future.”

Proos said that the next step was connecting these offenders Michigan businesses willing to give a second chance to former prisoners as they return home.

“We believe that education and employment are important to breaking the cycle of incarceration. The strong connection between education and reduced recidivism is clear. Michigan isn’t just participating in the second chance initiative, we are going to be a national leader,” said Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Heidi Washington.

Washington outlined how the state is structuring the pilot program, which will allow inmates to pursue a two- or four-year degree.

Under the pilot program, Michigan as a whole was awarded the most positions in the nation. Jackson College, Delta College and Mott Community College were approved for the program, with Jackson College being the single largest award recipient in the country.

Representatives of the three awarded community colleges as well as Calvin College, which currently teaches courses to Michigan prisoners, were in attendance and spoke to the success that they have seen with incarcerated students. Also presenting was the president and CEO of Cascade Engineering in Grand Rapids, who spoke about the positive impact that hundreds or formerly incarcerated individuals have had on his business.

Applicants will be interviewed individually and must be within five years of their earliest release date and have a GED or high school diploma — in order to identify those most likely to be succeed in the program.

“This was about hearing from representatives of our state prisons, community colleges, businesses and economic development agencies about the steps we are taking to help keep prisoners from returning to prison after they are released,” Proos said. “Businesses and colleges alike are seeing that these individuals are thirsting for education in order to advance their lives, provide for their families and improve their communities. We want to make this possible.”


Editor’s note: Audio comments by Proos are available on the senator’s website at

The above photograph is available by clicking on the image or by visiting Proos’ photowire at