NIANTIC, Conn. (WTNH) — When Senator Chris Murphy arrived at the Janet S. York Correctional Institute he was already convinced reinstating the opportunity for all inmates to apply for Pell Grants was a good idea.

“Half of the individuals who find themselves incarcerated find themselves incarcerated again,” said the senator.

He said that recidivism is cut by 40% when inmates are able to pursue an education behind bars.

“I have so much more under my belt now that I know I never have to turn to a drug again,” said inmate Jennifer Labbe. “I want that for so many of my peers.”

Labbe was among 11 inmates to share their stories with the senator.

“This program helped me to believe in myself to see something other than violence,” said inmate Shonda Northup. 

Their passion, their hope convincing Senator Murphy, even more, to fight for legislation which he said has bipartisan support.

“You’ll save the taxpayers millions and millions of dollars through that one change in law,” said Senator Murphy.

York is one of four prisons in Connecticut and 67 nationwide which has been in a pilot program since 2016 which allows some inmates to be eligible for a Pell Grant.

The senator is hoping all inmates will soon have the chance to use that grant to make a change and pursue a life without crime.

“Prior to this, like I thought I lost it all,” said one inmate. “I lost everything.”

“This program has given me the self-respect and self-esteem that I didn’t have before,” added another inmate.

Now, they are enrolled in classes at Three Rivers Community College, Middlesex Community College and Wesleyan.

“I have to prepare like for no other class because these students, they read everything,” said one teacher from Wesleyan. “They come to class ready to engage.”