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New Missouri Program Will Teach Inmates to Become Ministers

Graphic of a gavel.

The Missouri Department of Corrections is partnering with a university to launch college-level classes designed to train murderers, rapists and other long-term inmates to be ministers.

The program with Hannibal-LaGrange University is expected to begin in December, offering a bachelor's degree that focuses 60% on counseling and 40% on theology, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

Inmates must apply for the program. Qualifying offenders will likely be those who are socially active in the prison, have a low rate of conduct violations and are serving long sentences.

For now, the program will be available at facilities that house males.

"We plan to eventually make the pastoral ministry program available to offenders in women's facilities, but we won't be able to do it right away," corrections department spokeswoman Karen Pojmann said.

The university is funding the program through fundraising, she said.

The program is modeled after similar efforts in other states. The longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola — a maximum-security facility — pioneered the idea in 1995. Since then, more than 300 Angola inmates have earned seminary degrees.

An estimated 16 other states have modeled seminary programs after the one at Angola and two more are due to begin classes this fall, said Kristi Miller Anderson, chief operating officer of Global Prison Seminaries Foundation. The foundation is assisting Missouri and other states with their programs.

Anderson noted that the program focuses on long-term inmates because they have a stake in changing the culture of the prison where they reside.

In Missouri, after about two dozen offenders complete their degree, they will be sent to facilities around the state so the agency can have at least one offender-pastor in each prison. Pojmann said the corrections department plans to make the position a paid job.

"This new program would add a peer-counseling component, which has been shown to be effective in improving outcomes for the offender-ministers and their peers in other prisons throughout the country," Pojmann said.