By WCCO-TV Staff

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Inmates in Minnesota’s most populous county will now have access to “rigorous and robust” education and training courses while incarcerated. Moreover, officials say support for more education will continue once individuals are no longer in custody.

Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson announced Monday a new initiative called Helping Others by Providing Education (HOPE). According to a press release, the program aims to break the cycle of incarceration by helping inmates at the Hennepin County Adult Detention Center find new paths forward through learning.

“We know that many inmates in our jail and in other jails around the country lack a formal education and are unemployed; many have little chance to succeed personally and professionally once they’re released,” Hutchinson said, in a statement. “The HOPE program will provide these folks with new opportunities to help themselves.”

The sheriff noted that nearly 30% of inmates in the county do not have a high school diploma or a G.E.D. The courses in the HOPE program will include G.E.D programs, vocational training and life skills classes, in areas such as financial literacy.

The classes will be offered for two hours per day (Monday through Friday) per housing unit, the sheriff’s office says. During class periods, no other activities will be available, so as to encourage participation. Following the classes, those who participate will get access to tablets to further continue their learning.

Once a participant is no longer in custody, they’ll be matched with government agencies, nonprofits and private-sector partners to continue their education or start a vocation. The sheriff’s office says classes will be provided by the Minneapolis Public Schools Adult Education Program, and employers like AutoZone will provide work opportunities for those who completed vocational training.

“Every inmate deserves a second chance,” Hutchinson said. “It’s about changing their mindset, so they never come back again.”

The recidivism rate — the rate by which released inmates relapse into criminal behavior and state custody — has hovered around 35% in Minnesota for the last three years, per data from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. Hutchinson believes the HOPE program could bring a culture change and help reduce recidivism in the Twin Cities.

The HOPE program is based on the IGNITE education program in Genesee County, Michigan. Since September 2020, that program has enrolled nearly 500 students. In the last year, the participants have logged around 35,000 coursework hours, with some inmates seeing significant improvements in their read and math test scores.