Lino Lakes Correctional Facility Partnership

Lino Lakes Correctional Facility Partnership

Students ‘energized and engaged – 100 percent attendance’

Minneapolis College and Lino Lakes Correctional Facility joined in a partnership this fall to provide all eligible incarcerated students the opportunity to achieve a two-year Associate of Arts degree.

“The students are thrilled and hungry to learn,” said Program Coordinator Matthew Palombo, Minneapolis College Philosophy instructor for 18-plus years. “They’re energized and engaged.  We have 100 percent attendance and 100 percent participation I fully expect them to equal their peers at colleges outside the correctional system.”

Minneapolis College faculty are face-to-face at Lino Lakes for courses in English Composition taught by Michael Kuhne, a political science course called American Government and Politics by Lena Jones and a philosophy course in Ethics by Palombo.

Palombo listed the following goals for the program:

  • “Academic success. Two-year degrees can help students launch sustainable careers.
  • “Long term sustainability for these young men and women when they’re released.  We are creating smooth transitions so they can have community partners, build trusting relationships and avoid recidivism.
  • “Anti-racism. Higher education can be a factor in fighting against the institutional racism within in our criminal justice system. We come with an anti-racist and an equity framework and see this as freedom work.
  • “Prison culture can be very dehumanizing for people, so we hope to replace prison culture with an educational culture where students have a sense of belonging with the same rights and responsibilities as all other students.”

In terms of eligibility, Palombo said, “All the requirements to be enrolled are same as for all our other students at Minneapolis College. They must have a high school diploma or a GED and meet all the placement requirements for all the courses.”

Palombo said COVID restrictions have been a real challenge, but “we expect to increase from 32 to over 100 students next fall semester.”

“Lino Lakes staff has been very accommodating, and technology resources are in the works” Palombo said. “The classrooms include campus whiteboards, smart boards, PowerPoint, moveable desks—very much like our Loring Park campus. “Faculty hold office hours and do advising, provide disability accommodations and email students regularly. Students receive free textbooks and an electronic tablet to access our Learning Management System, do research and write papers in their living units, computer lab or library.

Students have even started their own official club called “Running for Change” whose mission is to “be a catalyst for change” and “give voice to marginalized people.”

Club leaders have organized awareness throughout the prison related to Hispanic Heritage Month and attend Student Senate meetings virtually.

A Fundamental Right

Palombo said college-in-prison programs received a boost when Congress approved restoration of PELL grants through the COVID relief package in December 2020. “After this was passed, I started calling around to various correctional facilities and eventually contacted Randall Bergman, Education Director at Lino Lakes, who was excited for this possibility” he said. “Through Randy’s work, the vision and leadership of Department of Corrections Assistant Commissioner Daniel Karpowitz and Education Specialist Janet Morales and support from our administration and the Minneapolis Foundation, this partnership has taken off.”

Governor Tim Walz launched an inter-agency initiative to “dramatically increase college-in-prison programs in Minnesota and hired Karpowitz and Morales. Karpowitz built the respected educational liberal arts program “Bard Initiative” through Bard College for incarcerated students to get access to opportunities with a full range of a college experience—bachelor of arts, associate degrees. Morales was at Augsburg University as director of partnerships.

The contract was signed after funding was approved by the Department of Corrections and Minneapolis College Foundation with the College absorbing some of the supportive costs.

“This is a long-term commitment,” Palombo said. “Education is a fundamental right and extends to people who are incarcerated as well as those who are not.  It is not about who deserves it because it is essential to what it means to be human.”

College in Prison: A Pathway to Freedom

Join Minneapolis College, the Minnesota Department of Corrections and community advocacy groups for a panel discussion on freedom and equity in higher education as we begin this work together.

  • Thursday, October 28
  • Noon - 1 p.m.
  • minneapolis.edu/cip
  • The virtual event is free and open to the public.

MORE ABOUT PALOMBO: Started at Minneapolis College January 2003. He teaches Philosophy and Global Studies courses. “I fell in love with our students, their diversity and how philosophy is valuable to their lives. He grew up in Chardon, Ohio, where he said his father “wrote to people in prison every week.” He earned history and philosophy undergraduate and graduate degrees at Cedarvale University. He received his Ph..D at the University of in Johannesburg in South Africa, learning from those who said they struggled were incarcerated, fought and died against Apartheid.  

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