A VIU prison education program is accepting a $1.1-million donation to provide “inside-out” learning.
The program offers post-secondary criminology courses at multiple correctional facilities on the Island for classes composed of both VIU students, called “outside students,” and incarcerated students, or “inside students.”
The donation, from the Northpine Foundation, will allow the program to expand to other schools across the province; it will also help support formerly incarcerated people looking to pursue post-secondary studies and enable the development of employment training at the correctional centre.
According to a VIU release, the program “puts a face and voice behind what it means to be involved in the justice system in a way that fosters mutual understanding, compassion and shared experiences.”
“The program has had a tremendous impact on my life,” said Markus Batraki, a former inside student, now full-time VIU student, in the release. “Through the program and the connections made with others, I came to believe in my ability to become a university student. I now understand that even though I have spent time in prison, I can overcome past adversity and tackle new goals in life with hard work and perseverance.”
VIU started offering inside-out classes in 2016 at the Nanaimo Correctional Centre and three years later the program expanded to Victoria at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre. Now, more than 250 students, including 118 incarcerated students, have taken the course.
“I’ve had the privilege of observing enormous growth in participants,” said criminology professor Elizabeth Mclin. “They learn that we have much more in common than we ever thought, recognizing our shared humanity.”
Other universities across B.C. will get assistance from VIU in starting up their own programs over the next three years, the release noted.
“This program has enabled inside students to see a different path forward for themselves. The program breaks down stereotypes, creating kinder, more compassionate human beings,” said Deborah Saucier, president and vice-chancellor of VIU, in the release.
The Northpine Foundation is a philanthropic organization which invests in “innovative” projects in under-served communities.
“Incarcerated people have limited access to post-secondary education, and what’s available is often prohibitively expensive,” said Sara Tessier, an impact manager with Northpine Foundation. “Our investment in the inside-out program will help remove some of the barriers to gainful employment by opening access to career-focused education.”