New numbers from a recent report show that young Black males are six times more likely than the national average to be incarcerated. However, what many inmates are doing in terms of education behind bars is the focus of a new idea.

African-Americans account for around 3,000 of inmates per 100,000 residents, and Black men who do not hold a high school diploma are more likely to end up locked up than land a job. Information from the U.S. Sentencing Commission uncovers the reality that Black men are given longer prison sentences than white men for the same crimes.

With that, Ben Haith, Connecticut anti-violence advocate and founder and president of the PeaceMakers Foundation, wants to ensure that those in prison are making the most of their time. He is currently working on his proposal for the National College for Inmates.

While some prisons already have college degree-granting programs, Haith said he wants to make sure a program is in place requiring specified inmates to have some type of college degree program as part of their plea-bargaining process. His vision is to create a curriculum that allows inmates to become social workers and mental health workers and work in the community upon their release.

“Each student inmate will be required to earn a college degree before completing their sentence,” Haith said. “The National College for Inmates program will change the environment of prisons and the behavior of the inmates in the United States forever.”

With the program still in its early stages, Haith added that mental health is an issue that has contributed to crime in the nation, and placing more professionals in areas that need it can help. He also said that requiring college in prison would also reduce the recidivism rate.

“The public must begin to take interest and responsibility for caring about the lives of our citizens who enter United States Federal Correctional Institutions,” he said. “The citizens of the United States can and will make a significant contribution to making the United States a safer place to live, and less of a violent country, and one of a peaceful country.”

Locally, there are programs already in place to give inmates the opportunity to obtain a higher education. One of the most notable programs is Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. Founded in 1998, the program provides college degree programs thanks to partners such as Nyack and Mercy colleges for inmates at several prisons, including Sing Sing, Taconic and Sullivan.

Today, Hudson Link works in four correctional facilities, enrolls 250 students annually and has four college programs. The programs are proven to work.

“There is compelling evidence that an investment in higher education is the most effective way to reduce re-incarceration and crime rates, lessen the taxpayer’s burden and make prisons safer and more manageable,” said officials at Hudson Link. “Higher education opens doors to job opportunities and creates better transitions upon release, helping formerly incarcerated men and women become productive and valued members of their families and their communities.”