Virginia DOC Earns STAR Award for Prison College Credit Program

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Department of Corrections (VADOC) received the State Transformation in Action (STAR) Award for its educational program that allows detainees in Virginia’s prisons to be eligible for college credit after taking any of the five career and technical education (CTE) courses recommended by the American Council on Education’s College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE CREDIT). The Council of State Governments’ Southern Legislative Conference (SLC) presented the award during its annual meeting in Kentucky on July 13.

“The STAR Award reflects Virginia’s intense focus on successful offender reentry and a brighter, safer Commonwealth for all of us,” said Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in a statement. “Virginia boasts one of the lowest recidivism rates in the nation, and this is due in part to our ongoing efforts to promote offender education.”

VADOC’s educational program, which launched in January 2014, makes the VADOC the only correctional system in the U.S. to hold ACE CREDIT recommendations in the U.S. The five recommended courses are Introduction to Business, Business and Software Applications, Commercial Arts & Design, Computer-Aided Drafting and Digital Print Production.

With the ACE CREDIT recommendations, learners can submit an ACE transcript of completed courses to higher education institutions to be evaluated as potential transfer credit in a degree program, just like a student would transfer credits from a traditional institution. The individual colleges and universities will then decide whether or not to accept the credits.

“Research shows that ex-offenders who acquired college credit while incarcerated have greater success as they re-enter their communities and lower recidivism rates,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran in a statement. “Offenders who take these classes are putting themselves on a path to productive citizenship when they are released and helping to make our communities safer.”

The SLC, a regional legislative group operating under The Council of State Governments, promotes innovative programs and ideas created by 15 southern states, and the organization’s STAR Award recognizes programs for their creativity, impact, transferability and effectiveness. The VADOC was one of two STAR winners among six finalists out of 30 nominees for this year’s STAR Award.

This is VADOC’s third STAR Award since 2013. It received an award in 2013 for its Segregation Step-Down program that uses evidence-based practices to provide offenders with a safe and secure way to progress to lower-security settings. In 2014, VADOC also shared honors with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles for a collaborative effort to provide valid state identification to offenders before they returned to their communities.