The Maine State Prison in Warren, April 5, 2017. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

A group of 20 Maine State Prison inmates received degrees from the University of Maine at Augusta this week.

Surrounded by family, university and prison staff, the men moved the tassels on their caps from right to left while proudly holding their degrees during a ceremony at the Maine State Prison in Warren on Tuesday.

Fourteen of the men received associate degrees and six received bachelor’s degrees, according to a news release from the University of Maine at Augusta.

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In short remarks, the students spoke of how this opportunity will better their lives and thanked family and staff for supporting them when they didn’t think they could be successful in their educational pursuits.

Since 2006, the Maine State Prison has been partnering with the University of Maine at Augusta to provide college courses to inmates. About 100 inmates have received degrees since the partnership began, acting Maine Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty said.

Inmates who participate in educational programming while incarcerated have 43 percent lower odds of reoffending and returning to custody after their release, according to Liberty. Only 1 percent of the inmates who have participated in the prison’s degree program have returned to a DOC facility, he said.

Liberty has identified increasing educational, vocational and mental health programming as one of his top priorities as commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. The DOC has five adult facilities across the state as well as a youth facility in South Portland.

“The Department of Corrections is more prepared and motivated than it has ever been to support and encourage offenders to set off on a path of educational attainment,” Liberty said in the news release.

Funding for the University of Maine at Augusta and Maine State Prison programming has come from the Sunshine Lady Foundation and through Second Chance Pell grants.