Second Chances: LSU CC&E Combines Research with Workforce Training for Parolees

May 03, 2022

Man looking at laptop

Project participant views data on his computer. 

The LSU College of the Coast & Environment has partnered with Blue Latitudes and the Louisiana Parole Project on a National Science Foundation, or NSF, Convergence Accelerator-funded project that will analyze the use of decommissioned petroleum platforms as artificial reefs while providing Parole Project participants with workforce training needed to succeed.

For the past 12 weeks, professors Mark Benfield and Ed Laws have been running an evening class for 10 formerly incarcerated citizens at the Louisiana Parole Project with graduate students from Southern University’s Computer Science Department serving as the course instructors. Benfield and Laws are professors in the LSU Department of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences and the Department of Environmental Sciences, respectively.

“I never cease to be impressed by how active in the community many LSU faculty are. They make significant contributions that are tangential to their own professional interests. In this case, our professors help educate and provide Parole Project students with computer skills that are essential for today’s job market,” said Chris D’Elia, professor and dean of the College of the Coast & Environment.

Group of people pose and smile in doors

Dr. Ed Laws with project participants on graduation day.

The class is designed to teach the 10 students how to use computers and commonly used software packages. As part of the training, these students then spend several weeks processing underwater videos collected below petroleum platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. The data they process about fish abundance and diversity will be used in the NSF project to predict the fisheries value of offshore platforms.

“Each student served a long sentence, 25 years or more, and are now reentering a technologically focused society. This class provides them with important computer skills needed for successful reentry into society,” Benfield said.   

Furthermore, on April 26 the Louisiana Parole Project and the LSU Tiger Prison Project hosted a special panel discussion and screening of the film, “Apart,” a documentary focusing on the challenges faced by women during and after incarceration. Eight of the 10 students were present at the screening, which was held in the auditorium of the Energy, Coast, and Environment Building and featured a panel of formerly incarcerated women, warden of the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women Kristen Thomas, and Louisiana State Senator Beth Mizell.

Learn more about the Louisiana Parole Project and view the film trailer.