Airway Heights Correctional Center commencement

Close to 200 Airway Heights Correctional Center inmates have taken career steps while serving their sentences.

Four men became the first Airway Heights prisoners to receive two-year associate degrees from Spokane Community College, while dozens of others were honored during a commencement ceremony Thursday.

David Hall was amongst those four earning associate degrees, and hopes to one day start a business after serving a long sentence.

"Some of us are really sorry for what we did, and we need not only a second chance but a second look at who we are,” Hall told the Spokesman-Review. He added that many who commit violence “were once victims of violence themselves.”

Nearly 190 other men additionally walked during the ceremony, with 79 earning GED diplomas and the remaining earning certificates for one-year vocational programs.

Associate Dean of the SCC program Kevin House said while there have been privately funded associate degree pilot programs at other Washington prisons, it wasn't until a few years ago that Legislature approved funding for programs at other prisons.

“We’ve got to give skills to people who are incarcerated, because when they get out, we want them to be productive and join the workforce,” CCS chancellor Christine Johnson said.

Inmates earned associate of applied science degrees, and credits don't automatically count towards four-year bachelor degrees, though some credits are transferable depending on the institution.

Tuition is covered by the state, though some inmates elsewhere bear some of the cost, and the programs currently have waiting lists.