SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — The first day of the new education policy went into effect on Oct. 3 for the Illinois Department of Corrections.

The policy officials said the policy write-up is by the Vera Institute of Justice experts. The programs are designed to help address challenges prisoners face completing a two or four-year degree.

Only a few states in the country offer post-secondary education in correctional facilities. However, officials said the changes to the education program are “one of the most direct and comprehensive policies around the delivery of post-secondary education in prison in the country and can serve as a valuable model for other jurisdictions in preparation for Pell benefit restoration in 2023.”

The IDOC new policy officials said it creates changes to the post-secondary educational programs. The beneficial changes are with student transfer holds and eliminating the Test of Adult Basic Education requirements.

“Providing clearer guidance will help us expand post-secondary education programs in our facilities,” said IDOC Assistant Director Alyssa Williams. “We need more educational opportunities for individuals in custody–especially in central and southern Illinois. This policy comes at a crucial time for post-secondary education in prison, and we are hopeful these changes will situate us to leverage Pell funding as soon as it’s reinstated.”

The goal said officials is to connect individuals in IDOC facilities across the state with access to higher education. Officials said this is only possible with partnerships with community colleges and public and private four-year colleges and universities. Those partnerships are possible because of state funds, donations, endowments, and at a select few sites, the option of adding Pell grants to offset the cost. There is a statewide map of the IDOC facilities that provide educational opportunities.

“This new map is a substation step forward for us,” said Jennifer Parrack, IDOC’s Chief of Programs. “It will help IDOC identify logical colleges to forge ties with and, we hope, assist interested colleges to understand the geography and needs of IDOC as well.”

Lake Land College is one of the participants. “We at Lake Land College appreciate the Department of Corrections work and leadership on correctional education. Post-secondary education within a correctional environment can be difficult. Still, it is critical to help individuals in custody to successfully re-enter the labor market after release. This new policy will provide colleges like Lake Land College with clear guidelines that ensure the safety as well as the success of students and staff,” said Lake Land College President Josh Bullock.

“We know we have plenty of room for improvement before we are a national leader in this space–however, we are making positive progress,” said Maria Miller, IDOC’s Manager of the Office of Adult Education and Vocational Services. “We are hopeful that this policy and the restoration of Pell benefits next year will help us make meaningful expansion to improve the experience of men and women in our custody both before release and once they’ve returned home.”

Multiple studies show that post-secondary education programs in prisons reduce prison costs. “Those with the opportunity to enroll and complete college courses are less likely to recidivate and pose fewer disciplinary challenges while incarcerated,” said officials.