The program is paid for with private donations, since a state law prohibits the use of taxpayers' money to provide any college courses for prison inmates.

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Columbia, SC (WLTX) South Carolina's first-ever class of female state prison inmates graduated from Columbia International University's Prison Initiative Friday. Twelve women earned Associate of Arts degrees and will now become chaplain's assistants at the three women's prisons across the state.

The program started in 2007 for male inmates and 63 men have graduated since then. They've been working in the state's 22 men's prisons. "Some institutions have character-based dorms, and so our guys are stationed there to be representatives, to be leaders, to really help their fellow inmates, to really be salt and light and be a calming peace at the institution," says Andre Melvin, with CIU.

Corrections director Bryan Stirling says, "It definitely makes it safer because we're able to utilize our staff. They supplement our staff to work with the handicapped, to work with the elderly, to do their ministry, things of that nature. So that is something that we can direct our resources elsewhere in security, so it makes it safer for the staff."

He says the program also reduces the number of inmates who commit more crimes after they're released. The graduates themselves are also much less likely to get in trouble after they're released because of their commitment to God and because they've earned two-year college degrees.

The program is paid for with private donations, since a state law prohibits the use of taxpayers' money to provide any college courses for prison inmates.

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