LC State holds commencement ceremony at Orofino prison

OROFINO, Idaho – Lewis-Clark State College held a commencement ceremony for two more graduates of its prison education program at Idaho Correctional Institution - Orofino (ICIO) on Monday. The unique event was held outside at the facility’s recreation yard and was attended by 56 other students in the program; over 20 college administrators, faculty and staff; as well as six family members of the graduates.

Austin Sherper and Scott White took a combination of online and in-person classes en route to earning associate of arts degrees in liberal arts through LC State’s Humanities Division. The graduates join Bryan Middleton, who graduated in the fall, as LC State’s first three ICIO graduates.

“We are proud of this program and proud of these graduates,” said LC State President Cynthia Pemberton, who presided over the ceremony. “LC State has a history of finding innovative ways to deliver meaningful education options and opportunities to students no matter where they are or what challenges they face. We’re a small college that continues to do big things and not just in Lewiston, but in Orofino, Coeur d’Alene, online, the region, and throughout Idaho.”

The college served 62 individuals in Orofino with both online and in-person classes in the fall and 53 in the spring. With the success, the college is expanding its prison education program to both Pocatello and Boise.

President Pemberton with Austin Sherper

“The program is educationally quite intense,” said Sherper. “It was nice to be in person with some classes and have the professors there and have that college experience. It really makes a difference. You really feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself.”

“I’m really proud of Austin, and also really appreciative of the opportunity because I think it’s made such a big difference for him and can be life-changing for so many others,” said Dawn Sherper, Austin’s mother. “We think it’s great that LC has started this and we really hope that it’s going to keep going and make a big difference for so many more.”

Monday’s event in Orofino was a full commencement ceremony inclusive of LC State’s administrative team, regalia, and all the pomp and circumstance one might expect at a graduation celebration. The attendance of family members proved especially meaningful for the graduates.

President Pemberton with Scott White

“What LC is doing for these inmates here at the facility is unbelievable,” said White while holding back tears. “It gives us an opportunity to make our family and friends proud that we don’t usually have. It’s very emotional.”

“We’re really appreciative of the college for what they offer to these guys and to the facility itself,” said Daniel White, Scott’s father. “Everyone is outstanding and they’re helping my son make progress in his life – making a bad situation good. We’re very thankful.”

According to research by the RAND nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization, providing education in prison has proven to reduce recidivism rates and is associated with higher employment rates. A 2018 RAND study found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 48 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than incarcerated individuals who did not participate in any correctional education program. RAND estimates that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, $4 to $5 are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

“In the same vein as providing education opportunities to all regardless of location, we want to ensure that all students have the same opportunity to participate in commencement,” LC State Provost Fred Chilson said. “It is a monumental achievement and we want to celebrate their hard work in achieving life-changing goals.”

“Today was epic. It was a great ceremony,” ICIO Deputy Warden Kent Shriver said. “It was really neat for these guys to do this because it isn’t something they’d normally get to do. I think it will really help motivate the other students to keep going and get their degree.”