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First Lady Gwen Walz ready to tackle prison reform, education to play a key role

May 06, 2019 06:13 PM

Minnesota First Lady Gwen Walz wants to raise awareness about opportunities for prison reform in Minnesota. For her, it all starts with education.

Mrs. Walz and Gov. Tim Walz are both teachers. In fact, she currently teaches a course at Augsburg University. The top of her priority list is using education in prison reform.

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"I think it's an entire look at corrections in Minnesota" said Walz. "We used to lead the nation in a number of areas in corrections and we no longer do." 

Walz told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there are almost 10,000 people in the state prison system. She believes most would benefit from an education.


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"When we have the opportunity to use our minds and transform our lives we ultimately have safer situations in prisons," she said.

According to Walz, offenders can earn high school diplomas and trade certificates in state prisons but not a college degree through the Department of Corrections. She would like to see that happen.

"95 percent of the people in prison are going to be released and they are going to be coming to our communities," said the First Lady. "And we would like them to, rather than to be disengaged in our community, to be engaged to our community."

Walz said in states where higher education is offered to offenders, like New York, fewer of them end up back in the system. In fact, she will be participating in a preview of a new documentary called College Behind Bars this Wednesday.

Walz is chair of the state's new reentry task force which meets for the first time on May 30.

"But it will be to have state agencies and outside partners all together, coming together around this issue and addressing not just how things look in prison but how things look after prison," she said.

The First Lady said she is taking a holistic approach to her agenda. She's a teacher at heart and is also excited to work on pre-K and Kindergarten through 12th-grade education, workforce and college readiness with books and libraries.

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Kevin Doran

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