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First-of-its-kind program in Minnesota launches, allowing inmates to earn legal degrees

The program led by the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and All Square allows inmates to receive legal degrees upon re-entry to society.

MINNEAPOLIS — There’s a revolution unfolding here in Minnesota known as the Legal Revolution, giving incarcerated men and women a chance at success through what’s being called the Prison to Law Pipeline

It’s a program that launched through a partnership with the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and Minneapolis's All Square, allowing inmates to receive legal degrees upon re-entry to society.

"The American Bar Association last week approved our request and we will officially be commencing a Juris Doctor program this fall," said Maya Johnson, program director. 

Last fall the Legal Revolution launched a paralegal program in partnership with North Hennepin Community College. 

"We have five scholars in our inaugural cohort of the paralegal program. They began their summer semester this week, actually," said Johnson. 

A life-changing launch — and a first-of-its-kind. 

"Both of these programs are the first ABA-approved and accredited legal programs administered in prisons in the country," said Johnson. She went on to explain, "with the ABA approval this week, we have the first American scholar who will be attending law school from inside a prison.”

That scholar is Maureen Onyelobi, an inmate at the Shakopee women’s prison.

"I am officially accepted to the Mitchell Hamline School of Law," said Onyelobi from a pre-recorded video message. She went on to say, "being able to obtain a proper legal education means so much to me, I have a bachelor's degree in English and a bachelor’s degree in communications, but for the past eight years, I’ve just been seen as inmate number 245445.”

A revolutionary moment giving some a new lease on life. 

"We can be productive members of society; we just need a different narrative to lead us in the right direction," said Onyelboi. 

The first class of Juris Doctor students are expected to graduate in 2027. 

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