Ex-Incarcerated, Benard McKinley, Earns College Degree and Gains Law School Admission

Benard McKinley, an ex-incarcerated man is well on his way to the Northwestern Law School this fall!

Benard McKinley, 16, was arrested for gang-related murder and sentenced to 100 years in prison at the age of 19.

But he refused to accept defeat, promising himself that he would do better for himself while taking full responsibility for his faults at the age of 16, according to ABC News

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His family was experiencing significant financial difficulty as a result of his legal bills, so he decided to study law and defend his case. 

He studied hard and earned his General Educational Developmental Diploma, or GED, while still in prison. He not only helped his case but also helped other prisoners who had no legal help available. 

Picture from McKinley’s Facebook

McKinley believes even incarcerated people are human beings and deserve a chance at justice. So, he also provided legal aid to other prisoners in need. 

When he fought his case, his sentence was lowered from 100 to 25 years, which he has served fully.

Despite his incarceration, he took the LSAT (Law Admissions Test) and applied to law school. 

After being released from jail in December 2023, he became the first graduate of Northwestern University’s Prison Education Program, or PEP, to be accepted into law school. 

As per the program director of PEP, Jennifer Lackey, the program was first initiated in the fall of 2018 and it is the only one of its kind that offers bachelor’s degrees to incarcerated people from a top 10 university. 

McKinley is now looking forward to joining the prestigious Northwestern Law School’s class of 2027 when he starts at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law this fall at the age of 39 years. 

McKinley with Jennifer Lackey – Courtesy Northwestern Prison Education Program (NPEP)

As per studies, people released from prison are more likely to be rearrested within three years.

A 2014 Rand study found that when inmates participated in correctional education programs, they had a 43% lower chance of recidivating compared to those not participating.

Lackey also told ABC News that she has worked with ex-incarcerated persons from a young age and understood that providing them with post-secondary learning options may help them change their lives for the better. 

In January 2022, Northwestern launched its first PEP class in two prisons in Lincoln, Illinois, with 100 incarcerated learners. McKinley was among the first graduating class to collect their certificates in November. 

Benard’s perseverance paid off when he was able to concentrate only on his goal of entering law school, leaving all other distractions behind. He is now an inspiration to his family and future generations, according to The Guardian

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