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A Pitch to Turn Prison Into College

A former Wisconsin governor who oversaw the expansion of the state’s prison system now wants to turn a prison into a college.

Tommy Thompson, now the interim president of the University of Wisconsin system, wants to start with a class of 315 inmates, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. He estimates the project, called the UW System Prison Education Initiative, will cost about $5 million to get started. Thompson is working to secure funding, he told WPR, but he also expects to have inmates pay some money back in the form of student loans.

He will be presenting the idea to the system’s Board of Regents this week, along with his first budget proposal as the interim president. Thompson is requesting $95.7 million, about 3.5 percent more than the last proposed budget.

The prison initiative would also include technical and private colleges, businesses, and the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, he told WPR.

Research has shown that letting incarcerated people pursue education while in prison decreases recidivism rates. The University of Wisconsin at Madison has a program called Odyssey Beyond Bars, which offers credit and noncredit liberal arts courses to state prisoners.

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