Inmates at the state’s only maximum-security correctional facility for men can now pursue a four-year college degree, according to a statement from the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
This week, nearly 30 inmates began taking classes through the new Mount Olive Correctional Complex Moral Rehabilitation program.
Graduates will receive a bachelor of arts in Bible and Theology through Appalachian Bible College, located in Raleigh County.
The Mount Olive Correctional Complex is located in Fayette County and has a current capacity of 1,030 inmates.
The program is modeled on the college course at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, informally called Angola.
Burl Cain, the warden of Angola, told the New York Times in 2013 that he attributed a Bible college at Angola to a reduction in violence within the nation’s largest maximum-security prison.
West Virginia Corrections Commissioner Jim Rubenstein, who is also a deputy secretary of the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, said he is committed to the Moral Rehabilitation concept.
“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,” he said.
Rubenstein said the program could be a first step toward changes in the state’s juvenile justice system as well.
The program is paid for by Catalyst Ministries and will involve no public funds, according to the release.
“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.
Allen Ferry, a veteran U.S. Army and New York Department of Corrections chaplain and the program’s instructor, had been retired for about two years when he accepted the position.
“I was very excited to come out of retirement to do this,” he said.
Rubenstein and DOC officials have visited Angola several times, including late last month with other state officials including several legislators.
Delegate David Walker, D-Clay, and state Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, both said they believe the program holds great potential for inmates attempting to redeem themselves and return to society as law abiding and productive citizens.
Courses are designed for inmates serving life or long-term sentences.
Rubenstein hopes to see graduates serving as mentors to other inmates and assisting prison chaplains with their ministries.
The class meets Monday through Thursday with independent study sessions on Fridays.
Appalachian Bible College, in conjunction with Catalyst Ministries, will hold a convocation at the prison to commemorate the opening of Mount Olive Bible College on Monday, Sept. 29.