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    Wednesday, June 12, 2024

    Yale, University of New Haven partnership celebrates first degrees awarded to inmates

    Graduates Alpha Jalloh, left, and Marcus Harvin, right, embrace at the first college graduation ceremony at MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution, Friday, June 9, 2023, in Suffield, Conn. The ceremony was held under a partnership established in 2021 by the University of New Haven and the Yale Prison Education Initiative. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

    SUFFIELD (AP) — Marcus Harvin has two identification cards.

    One shows he is a fellow at Yale College, which is helping him on a track toward law school.

    The other shows he is a parolee, just released from the maximum security MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institution after spending six years in prison for a highly publicized drunken driving accident that left his two young children injured.

    Harvin, who hopes to become a defense attorney someday, was back inside the prison Friday for a graduation ceremony at which he received his associate degree in general studies from the University of New Haven. He and six other men make up the first class to matriculate from a partnership between UNH's Prison Education Program and the Yale Prison Education Initiative.

    “That name, Yale, means so much because I’m from New Haven and to be able to study at Yale and begin studying in prison is unheard of," said Harvin. “People even think I’m lying sometimes, so I’ll show them my jail I.D. and my Yale I.D.”

    The Yale program was launched in 2016 by alum Zelda Roland. It was based on a similar program she was part of while working with Wesleyan University.

    Yale partnered with UNH in 2021, giving the student-inmates a path to two- and four-year college degrees. The program, which offers classes at McDougall-Walker and the federal women's prison in Danbury, is now part of a consortium that includes 15 schools and prison systems across the country.

    “We believe that this is a transformative program, that it has the potential to make a generational impact,” said Roland, who serves as the director of the Yale-UNH partnership. "We believe that we’re transforming not just individual student's lives, but also the institutions that we work in, both the universities and correctional system."

    Gov. Ned Lamont served as the graduation speaker Friday, echoing that theme and expressing hope that the graduates will pave the way for others.

    “We define our own futures and today is the start of that,” he said. “You learn from the past, but you define your own future. And what happens in your future is going to be your legacy. And I want you to have a really important story to tell.”

    Just over 20% of inmates receive some form of higher education in prison, UNH officials said. And studies have shown that those who do are far less likely to have behavioral problems in prison, and far less likely to commit crimes once they are released.

    Harvin said it also gives inmates something that may be less tangible, but perhaps just as important — hope.

    “It literally is the light at the end of the tunnel that gives the day illumination,” Harvin said. “Because when you get to those classes, you don’t feel like you’re in prison. You actually go from being in a cell to being kind of, sort of on a campus. You literally feel like you’re not in the same place anymore.”

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