ANNAPOLIS — As the pandemic fades, Maryland prisons are expected to open back up this summer and when they do, Georgetown University is offering a full college degree program for aspiring students incarcerated in the state's system.

The new Bachelor of Liberal Arts program was delayed by a year because of the pandemic and will start in the fall, according to Josh Miller - director of education at the Georgetown Prisons and Justice Initiative - which modeled the coursework on a similar program they run in the D.C. Jail.

He said formerly incarcerated people face serious challenges with housing and employment after release and a bachelor's degree has been proven to help with that and keep folks from returning to prison.

"There's about a one-third drop in recidivism rates just for any education at all," said Miller. "And something like a bachelor's degree program that we intend, the recidivism rate will be close to zero. And that's because once you have these kinds of opportunities and skills to offer, you're going to do really, really well once you get home."

He expects the application process to begin sometime in the next few months.

The degree will be offered to an initial class of 25 students at the maximum-security Patuxent Institution in Jessup. Incarcerated folks across the state can apply and accepted students will be transferred to Patuxent.

Miller said he expects students to complete the degree in about five years. He noted that previous graduates from the D.C. Jail program went on to careers helping change what Miller calls an unjust mass incarceration problem in the U.S.

He said America imprisons seven to 10 times more people than other developed nations.

"When somebody has been incarcerated, they've been through that experience and they can bring that experience to bear advocating on behalf of themselves and others," said Miller. "They're infinitely more effective to help us right the ship, change course. "

Incarcerated people who participate in postsecondary education programs are 48% less likely to return to prison than those who do not, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. In December, Congress reinstated the Second Chance Pell Grant to help those behind bars cover education costs.