By Alaa Elassar, CNN

WASHINGTON, DC (CNN) — Georgetown University has announced a new program that will allow some Maryland prison inmates to earn bachelor’s degrees.

The Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative (PJI) will lead the five-year program. It will choose its first 25 students in the fall 2021 semester. By the program’s end, at least 125 inmates within the Maryland prison system will have earned bachelor’s degrees from the private university in Washington.

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“There is a great deal of research showing that prison education reduces costs, makes communities safer and greatly improves the lives of participants and their families,” PJI director Marc Howard told CNN.

“We believe that incarcerated people have value and potential, and we expect that our program will help them grow and thrive, thereby setting an example for their communities and our society overall.”

Georgetown and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) signed a memorandum of understanding on March 17, the first step to making the program a reality, PJI said in a news release.

The opportunity to earn a higher education will pave the way for incarcerated people to return to the outside world with resources they need to find “financial stability and socioeconomic mobility,” PJI said.

The program expands PJI’s existing Prison Scholars Program at the District of Columbia Jail, which allows inmates to earn college credits for coursework completed while incarcerated, but does not grant degrees.

“We welcome the opportunity to offer higher education from a prestigious university within our corrections system,” DSPCS Secretary Robert Green told CNN. “The Prison Scholars Program opens doors from incarceration to employment and will help its students contribute positively to their communities post-release.”

The expanded program is funded by a $1 million three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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A pathway to success

Inmates selected from prisons across Maryland will be transferred to Patuxent Institution in Jessup, where they will commence studies.

“Just like the typical admissions process at Georgetown, it will be very competitive,” Howard said. “We’ll be looking for applicants with a high school diploma or GED who are highly motivated to complete their degree and show potential for academic excellence.”

By the end of the program, inmates will have earned a bachelor of liberal arts with a focus in one of three majors: cultural humanities, interdisciplinary social science or global intellectual history.

The program requires 120 credit hours and will take about five years to complete, according to PJI.

“We expect that this program will have a powerful and positive impact on the lives of our students and their families,” Howard said. “We hope that a degree from Georgetown will open doors for our Scholars when they return to their communities, thereby helping them overcome the obstacles and the stigma that returning citizens face.”

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