Asnuntuck Community College (ACC), held its first commencement ceremony for its Second Chance graduates. This past fall ACC began to offer a variety of certificate programs to incarcerated individuals as part of a federal pilot program known as “Second Chance Pell.” Asnuntuck was one of sixty-seven schools selected nationwide by the White House to participate. This initiative seeks to equip inmates with job skills necessary to become contributing members of society upon their release. The program provides federally-funded Pell Grants to eligible incarcerated students who are close to completing their sentences.

Asnuntuck provided instruction at its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Center (AMTC), in Enfield, as well as at the MacDougall, Osborn, Robinson and Willard Cybulski correctional facilities in the disciplines of Marketing, Business Administration, Human Services Management and Advanced Manufacturing Technology.

This program was funded through Federal Pell dollars earmarked for this population, and did not take away resources from Connecticut students.

Asnuntuck is one of four community colleges within the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system participating in the Second Chance Pell Program.

Department of Correction Commissioner Scott Semple, Warden John Tarascio, Asnuntuck President James Lombella, Connecticut State Colleges and Universities President Mark Ojakian, and Class Speaker Rich Halapin spoke during the ceremony. Additional representatives from Asnuntuck and the Department of Correction joined members of the inmates’ families for the ceremony.

Six inmates received a certificate in Advanced Machine Technology at the Willard-Cybulski Reintegration Center. Three of those individuals were sworn in as members of the Alpha Lambda Zeta Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society during the ceremony.

Karen Martucci, Director, External Affairs Division, Connecticut Department of Correction addressed the group. “The schools chosen demonstrated strong partnerships with state correctional institutions as part of the criteria along with a focus on supporting successful reentry. The goal is to enroll approximately 12,000 incarcerated students across the country who are likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.”

In addition to these graduates, several individuals within that original group, who had completed serving their time, received their certificates as part of Asnuntuck’s Commencement ceremony this past week at Springfield Symphony Hall.
Inmate Rich Halapin spoke about the positive experiences they each had with the program. Halapin said each student had their own strengths and they helped each other. He said he believed that this group of inmates would no longer be a liability to the State of Connecticut but will instead be an asset with their new machining skills.

Commissioner of the Department of Correction, Scott Semple addressed the group. “Please know that this is not a soft on crime approach, this is a smart on reentry approach. We have a responsibility to prepare offenders as they near release. Essentially, this is about being accountable to those that have shown accountability to themselves.” He added, “According to a study by the Department of Justice, incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years.”

Warden of the Willard-Cybulski Correctional Institution, John Tarascio also gave remarks. He thanked the families for the support they have given to the inmates. “This was not an easy task for the six graduates seated before us. They were challenged. They were even discouraged at times, but they worked through the difficulties and made it here today. “

President James Lombella congratulated the students, “You will be able to take your skills and go out in the world and make a positive difference, for yourself, your family and your community!” President Ojakian reminded the students that an education is something no one can take away from them. The CSCU President shook the hands of each graduate, after he completed his remarks.

Director of the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Program Frank Gulluni reminded all of the graduates that his department will always be available to help them navigate their way when furthering their education or working on moving forward in their career.