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Amid plans to expand education for inmates, Healey administration tours state’s School of Reentry

In the six years since the school opened, 81 percent of students have earned the equivalent of a high school diploma and 92 percent have held a job more than a year after being released.

Miguel Rivera, left, listens to fellow School of Reentry graduate Roberto Rivera, right, share his story about the program that helped him turn his life around. Roberto spoke at a roundtable discussion at the Boston Pre-Release Center.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

When the professor of his Philosophy of Justice class asked for a volunteer to read the first bullet point off the PowerPoint, Felix Rivera didn’t hesitate to raise his hand.

Nor was he shy about jumping into a discussion on the ethics of plea deals with the Brandeis University students he shares a classroom with twice a week, in a quiet corner of Roslindale at the state’s School of Reentry, a residential school for inmates about to be released from prison.

Only months ago, the idea of debating philosophy students over legal theory and public policy sounded terrifying, Rivera said. But at the School of Reentry, he has found a place that pushes him to speak up, as he learns to think critically about issues that matter to him as a member of his community.


“I didn’t grow up around regular people . . . but they don’t treat us like criminals, I can just be a regular person, too,” said Rivera, 27. “I’m usually a reserved person, but I’ve learned to open up more, talk more, and just express how I feel.”

Housed within the Boston Pre-Release Center, the School of Reentry offers a small cohort of inmates an immersive, yearlong preparation for their return into the community that combines high school and college level education, job training, and guidance on health and wellness, including counseling for substance use and mental heath challenges.

In a show of support for re-entry programs across the state, Governor Maura Healey plans to announce Wednesday the state’s budget for the upcoming year would set aside an additional $10 million to expand educational opportunities for incarcerated individuals preparing to return home.

“Our investment in quality educational opportunities and reintegration planning will improve the transition from incarceration to community by increasing access to sustainable employment, improving economic equality, and tearing down structural barriers,” Healey said in a statement.


In the six years since the school opened in 2016, 81 percent of students have earned the equivalent of a high school diploma and 92 percent have maintained a job 18 months after being released from prison, with a recidivism rate of less than 10 percent, state officials said.

On Tuesday, Department of Correction Commissioner Carol Mici and Public Safety Undersecretary Andrew Peck were among several state officials who toured the facility, which includes a recently constructed classroom that converts into a CrossFit gym twice a week. Frederick Douglass’ autobiography and novels by Paulo Coelho rested on bookshelves alongside High School Equivalency Basics textbooks in English and Spanish, as well as a copy of ‘How Money Works.’

“Preparing them for life outside here gets started while they’re in here,” said Lisa Millwood, executive director of the school. “We can take them from no education to a 12th grade education in 12 to 18 months . . . by giving them all the love, care, and support while they’re with us.”

The school is application-only and involves rigorous coursework in math, reading, science, and social studies. Graduates say the benefits are well worth the effort.

Roberto Rivera, who first sought an education while incarcerated at MCI Norfolk as a better alternative to dealing drugs, was admitted late to the School of Reentry’s 2020 cohort in the height of the pandemic. Rivera, 43, recalled dozens of late nights studying to catch up to the other students — and nearly as many mornings debating whether to give up — but looks back on his exams with pride.


“I’m not gonna lie and say it was an easy road . . . the pressure was on, but I dedicated myself to it,” Rivera said. “One thing I had in me was a hustler — I’m never one to settle for less.”

After completing his high school equivalency and earning a certificate in automotive technology, Rivera is set to graduate from the Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology with an associate’s degree in May, with plans to earn his bachelor’s in business and become an entrepreneur. Now, roughly four months out of prison, he juggles his studies with a job at a gym in Methuen, parenting his two kids, and serving as a mentor for current School of Reentry students, including Felix Rivera.

“It’s not just about school, they prepared me for society . . . I’m not trying to be just an employee, I’m trying to be a boss — but a boss that can help other people,” he said. “Everything that I know, I’ll share it with Felix . . . A little about the good, but also that you gotta put the work in.”

David Mayo, director of the Office of Returning Citizens in Boston, said in an interview that reentry is most successful when people start the process about a year before their scheduled release from prison, and continue receiving support for the first three years of their life back in the community.


The expansion of prerelease services, he said, is critical to ensuring a smooth transition back into society for someone who might be unfamiliar with navigating day-to-day life, even when returning to the same city they grew up in.

“It’s almost like trying to get a child ready for college. As you’re transitioning them from high school, the idea is that you now have to set their mind for college, which works in a whole different way,” he said. In a matter of years, “society changes excessively . . . and you need the time to prepare them for what they’re going to do next.”

Ivy Scott can be reached at ivy.scott@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @itsivyscott.