WARREN, Maine — In Maine, the Sunshine Lady Foundation tuition grant program is available only at the Warren facility and only to a select few, but other inmates there and inmates in other prisons can take college classes through online courses once they complete what’s called an “accuplacer” test and are approved for enrollment by each prison’s respective education department.
For inmates who meet these qualifications, the Department of Corrections pays as much as two-thirds of the tuition and inmates or their families are responsible for the rest, ranging from $175 at the Bolduc Correctional Center to $220 at the Maine State Prison per three-credit class.
The department also pays the full cost of books, which can run up to $700 per semester.
To qualify for this funding, students must maintain at least a C average and stay out of trouble while in prison.
Even though the department has allocated funding and assigned teaching positions and classroom space at all six of its adult correctional facilities, the program is underused, with less than a third of the available slots filled in September.
According to the department, the Maine State Prison fills the highest number of its 62 available slots, with 37 students currently studying for college degrees. Scott Fish, director of special projects for the department, said that high enrollment rate is proof of the success of the Sunshine Lady program.
In other facilities, where inmates have to pay a portion of their tuition, the enrollment is far less. For example, only one student is enrolled among 10 slots available at the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport and no students are enrolled at the Charleston Correctional Facility, even though 20 slots are available.
In the past, the department has not tracked the total number of inmates who receive degrees or the recidivism rates beyond the Sunshine Lady grants, but started tracking those numbers earlier this year at the direction of Commissioner Joseph Ponte.