Jan 5, 2024 - News

Colorado hires first incarcerated professor to teach inmates

David Carrillo, an adjunct professor with Adams State University, teaches a macroeconomics class in November at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility. Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Woolf for Chalkbeat

A public university in southern Colorado is hiring incarcerated people with graduate degrees to teach its prison bachelor's degree program, our partners at Chalkbeat report in partnership with Open Campus.

Why it matters: The initiative — one of the first of its kind in the country — is designed to ease staff shortages in prison education programs and benefit incarcerated students by pairing them with professors with shared experiences.

  • It also gives incarcerated people — who typically earn just 80 cents a day — the opportunity to make significantly more money to cover basic needs when they are released.

Details: Adams State University in Alamosa recently hired David Carrillo, 49, as its first adjunct professor at the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility, making him the first incarcerated Coloradan to teach a college-level class to other inmates.

  • Carrillo has been teaching a two-hour Intro to Macroeconomics class, which has earned him a $3,600 salary.

What they're saying: "To be able to help these guys realize that they are capable of doing so much more — that's a reward right there," said Carrillo, who earned his MBA from Adams State in 2021.

Of note: Carrillo, who has spent nearly 30 years in prison for his role in a 1993 murder, was granted clemency by Gov. Jared Polis in December and is expected to be released later this month.

  • His decision to get a bachelor's degree and willingness to work as a professor influenced the governor's decision, Polis wrote in a letter to Carrillo.

What's next: Adams State's prison education program is expanding, with plans to hire two more adjunct instructors by the end of the year.

Flashback: Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that reduces prison sentences for incarcerated people with nonviolent felony offenses if they earn higher education degrees or certificates while serving time.


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