St Joseph’s Prison Outreach to Provide Prisoners with Second Chance in Life

Marco Carvalho

The University of Saint Joseph and the Social Welfare Bureau recently signed a partnership agreement, allowing the University’s Prison Outreach Programme to offer incarcerated individuals the possibility to progressively enroll in a bachelor’s degree in Social Work. Since it was launched three years ago, the initiative has attracted more than a dozen inmates. Now, Macau’s Catholic university wants to enhance the programme’s attractiveness by awarding scholarships and fellowships to some of the students. The University of Saint Joseph is establishing a scholarship scheme to support incarcerated individuals with economic difficulties and outstanding academic performances.

The criteria for awarding the scholarships are not yet completely defined, but the University expects to award the first Prison Education Scholarships starting from this year. The number of awarded grants will largely depend on the ability to attract patrons willing to finance the initiative, says Helen Liu, Prison Outreach Programme Leader and Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Education.

She told O Clarim, “It will depend on the amount of money we can raise. But our original idea is to create a fellowship to be awarded according to the academic performance of the students and a scholarship aimed at low-income inmates.” “The University of Saint Joseph is already exercising its social responsibility by lowering the value of tuition fees, so that inmates can have access to higher education. Although the University offers a significant discount, some of the inmates face severe financial difficulties and are unable to pay those tuition fees. We are trying to find private donors or someone in the Catholic community willing to donate, so that the University can create these scholarships,” adds Liu.

The University of Saint Joseph Prison Outreach Program was created in 2009 and was re-launched with its present-day format in December 2018. The initiative, which takes the incarcerated individuals through three different phases, currently involves more than a dozen teachers from the University of Saint Joseph. Inmates spend six years completing a majority of their social work while they are imprisoned. A final internship is conducted on USJ’s campus after they are allowed to re-enter society. “The newly- announced scholarships,” Liu explains, “will be awarded to former inmates who have completed the first phase of the programme behind bars. Our outreach program is developed in three phases. In the first phase, we offer our classes inside the prison. The second starts when they get out and re-enter society. The first phase enables them to complete their bachelor’s studies at the University’s facilities. We currently have a student in these conditions,” Liu says. “They show a lot of commitment in their studies and truly appreciate that we are offering them the possibility to boost their education while they are in prison,” she adds.

(Photo: CDD20 at Pixabay)