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Sep 15, 2014 06:55 AM EDT

WV Inmates Can Earn College Degree through Rehabilitation Program

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West Virginia male inmates can now earn a four-year college degree through the new Mount Olive Correctional Complex Moral Rehabilitation program. At the end of the program, graduates will receive a bachelor of arts in Bible and Theology through Appalachian Bible College.

"I believe we have the opportunity to make some truly positive changes not only within our Corrections system but that our efforts can be far reaching throughout the state," said Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein said, WVVA reports.

The Moral Rehabilitation program for inmates serving life or long-term sentences is to be funded by Catalyst Ministries. Nearly 30 Mount Olive inmates have been enrolled in the program so far and will attend classes Monday through Thursday with independent study sessions on Friday.

Allen Ferry, a veteran U.S. Army and the program's instructor, hopes to change the inmates' attitude towards life and living.

"This is a non-traditional program to effect culture change in our prisons that will save lives, reduce victims, reduce violence, save MONEY, and save children of incarcerated parents from following in their parents' footsteps," said Mount Olive Warden David Ballard.

Rubenstein believes that the program will see graduates serving as mentors to other inmates, and assist prison chaplains with their ministries and services.

"I honestly feel, in the future, we will also see this as having a tremendous impact on the juvenile justice system as well," Rubenstein said.

The Moral Rehabilitation program is inspired by the college course at the Louisiana State Penitentiary also known as Angola. The nation's largest maximum-security prison facility with 6,300 inmates, was once considered to be one of the most violent prisons in the country. As a resuIt, it was nicknamed the "Alcatraz of the South".

However, officials said that the non-traditional program significantly reduced violence within the prison.

Delegate David Walker, D-Clay, said that the educational curriculum being offered by Appalachian Bible College will help prisoners to transform into law abiding productive citizens, once they are freed.

Similar initiatives have also been offered at other Correctional Complexes including Maine State Prison. In November 2013, 14 inmates graduated with degrees from the University of Maine Augusta (UMA) - eight of them earned associate degrees in liberal studies and six Bachelor of Arts in liberal studies. Out of the 14 graduates, 13 graduated with honors.

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