Gov. Chris Christie is expanding the New Jersey Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prisons program that lets prison inmates take college-level courses.

(Ian Waldie, Getty Images News)

Right now, about 500 inmates participate in six correctional facilities, but over the next four years, about 2,000 prisoners in 10 facilities will be able to do so.

Christie believes the NJ-STEP program underscores the preciousness, value and potential of all human life.

"Through this program, we're beginning to destigmatize incarceration, and to make sure that when we say we want folks to reintegrate into society, that we give them an opportunity to reintegrate into society in a meaningful way," Christie said during a news conference at Mercer County College in West Windsor.

The governor said "every one of us has failings, every one of us has made mistakes, every one of us has fallen down at some point in our lives. The difference is when do we get up, and is there someone there to give us a hand and help us -- and will they not judge us so harshly that no matter what efforts we make, we won't be able to change our lives?"

(David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Gov. Chris Christie discusses the NJ-STEP program.

Christie stressed if we don't offer educational opportunities to people in prison so they can change their lives, we should not be surprised if they fall back into the same problems and behaviors that landed them behind bars in the first place.

"We don't break that cycle by punishing people more harshly," he said. "The way we break that cycle is to provide hope, but that hope is also very fragile, so we need to be vigilant stewards of that hope."

A consortium of higher education institutions, including Rutgers University, is working with the New Jersey Department of Corrections on the NJ-STEP program.