HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Prison inmates from across Missouri will soon have the opportunity to receive gospel training from Hannibal-LaGrange University.
HLGU President Anthony Allen said the training will focus primarily on teaching prison inmates how to serve behind bars.
"Some of those who take the classes will be able to exit the prison system, but for most of them, in a maximum security prison, this will be to help them where they are. They can become chaplain assistants who will even go within prison system. We're excited about these new opportunities," Allen said.
HLGU will offer theological education for long-term prisoners by offering an undergraduate Christian studies degree program within the maximum-security Jefferson City Correctional Center. The goal would be to equip offenders as missionaries, sending them out to work as field ministers in prisons across the state. HLGU is partnering with the Missouri Department of Corrections and the Global Prison Seminaries Foundation to offer the program.
Allen hopes the university's program can provide gospel hope for those living behind bars.
"This is to help and equip folks who may spend the rest of their life incarcerated. Our goal is to help them live out life in prison" following God's plan, Allen said.
The program's curriculum has been developed and approved, and Allen hopes classes will begin in January of 2020. But, he added, HLGU needs to raise more funds for the program.
"The program has to be funded solely within the institution. Obviously, there won't be Pell Grants or federal aid," Allen said.
"We're not going to make a dime off this program…," he told HLGU's trustees in March. "Our goal would be for it to be budget-neutral."
Kristi Miller Anderson, chief operating officer of the Global Prison Seminaries Foundation, told the St. Louis Post- Dispatch that long-term prison inmates are ideal for this program precisely because they can help change the culture within the prison.
HLGU's prison degree program is modelled after other Southern Baptist programs that have shown great success in transforming both individuals' lives and the prison's culture.
Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La., saw a transformation after the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary established a seminary degree program for long-term inmates there. The number of attacks on inmates and staff has fallen since more than 300 inmates took the training and began attending church services regularly.
"The Bible college was the game-changer," Burl Cain, the prison's former warden told The New York Times in 2014. "It changed the culture of the prison."
Inspired by the impact of the Louisiana program, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, also launched a degree program in 2011 at Darrington, a maximum-security prison in Rosharon, southwest of Houston.