PEMBROKE PINES, FLA. (WSVN) - Non-violent, first time offenders are off to college for free thanks to a special program at Broward College.

Mark is a student of the Court to College program at the Judson A. Samuels South Campus in Pembroke Pines.

“I’m overwhelmed because the only thing I’m overwhelmed about is just the anxiety of like, OK, am I gonna make it?” he said. “Like, is everything going to be smooth? Like what am I going to face?”

The 24-year-old is like any other college student, except he’s been given a chance to get an education instead of face jail time.

“This program is like– it’s free,” he said. “It’s literally like all free, and they’re willing to help you out,” he said.

Mark is part of a new Broward program that takes people like himself — nonviolent first-time offenders — from court to college.

“This is the very first time that we have ever done this program,” said Gregory Haile, Broward College’s president.

The Broward State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and Broward College launched the Court to College diversion program, where offenders and victims of crimes, can earn credentials for jobs in high demand in exchange for dismissal of charges.

“We get to work with them to ensure that low level offenders get the opportunity to not have a conviction but to go to college and get workforce training that can change their lives,” said Haile.

The idea is to make Broward County safer by giving people a second chance.

“And by giving people a second chance, we keep them out of the court system, we reduce recidivism rates and we don’t see these people ever again,” said Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor.

Like Mark, these offenders have to be charged with a third-degree felony or less to avoid a criminal conviction, and the victim in the case must approve of the offenders going into the program.

Mark said he is grateful.

“I’m really looking forward to being like in the EMT and paramedics field,” he said, “so I guess this would be the beginning of that for me.”

“We finally got it right,” said Pryor. “We’re doing what we were called to do, and that’s to reform the criminal justice system and change people’s lives.”

Students can choose from three areas of study: Marine electrician, automotive technician or transportation specialist.

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