March 2019 – The Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice released a report today, Mapping the Landscape of Higher Education in New York State Prisons, which is the first of its kind in examining both the history and scope of college-in-prison programs across the state. The report describes the existing programs and incorporates the perspectives of DOCCS (Department of Corrections and Community Supervision) officials, college administrators, and incarcerated students.
The efficacy of college-in-prison programs in reducing recidivism is well documented; a study by the Rand Corporation showed that those who participated in correctional education programs had a 43% lower rate of recidivating than those who did not. Mapping the Landscape explores other benefits of college-in-prison programs, such as improving incarcerated students’ relationships with their families and increasing safety in facilities for both students and correctional staff.
At its peak, New York State was home to 70 higher education programs in state prisons. The elimination of federal Pell and New York State TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) eligibility for incarcerated students in the mid-1990s, however, reduced the number of programs to just four. In the years since, institutions of higher education, DOCCS, private foundations, and incarcerated individuals have collaborated to create the impressive portfolio of college programs described in this report. In short, there are now 15 college-in-prison programs in New York State, which operate through partnerships with over 30 colleges and universities at 25 DOCCS facilities. Efforts to expand correctional higher education have also been bolstered by the Federal Second Chance Pell pilot program, the District Attorney of New York’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (DANY CJII), and funds allocated by the State Legislature. But despite the progress that has been made, currently just 3% of the approximately 47,000 individuals incarcerated in New York State are able to participate in college programs.
A 2017 Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll found that 67% of voters support increasing state funding for postsecondary education for incarcerated people, and 76% agree that post-secondary education helps decrease crime. Mapping the Landscape is intended to help state and local policymakers, institutions of higher education, DOCCS, advocates, and the general public understand the landscape of college education programs in prison, appreciate their value, and strategize about how to build on current success.
This report was derived from interviews with DOCCS officials and college-in-prison program administrators, observations of programs, and surveys completed by incarcerated students. In addition to describing the existing higher education programs in New York State prisons, the report offers recommendations to increase access to college for more people while they are incarcerated, make the programs more comparable in their academic offerings, and connect students leaving prison to reentry supports in the community which would enable them to continue their education after release.
DOCCS Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said, “I believe that education is transformational, not solely for the individual, but how the students can impact the rest of the population as a visible example of personal growth and discipline. DOCCS is committed to higher education and under the Governor’s leadership, we have been able to dramatically expand the number of college level classes available in DOCCS facilities, and there are plans for future growth of the education program and a larger number of individuals who will be better prepared for a successful reentry into the community.”
“John Jay College and its Prisoner Reentry Institute are proud to be part of the rich community of prison education programs in New York State,” said Karol V. Mason, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “When we ended government support for incarcerated students in the 1990s we took away an important tool in the fight to reduce recidivism. Prison education programs work, by giving incarcerated students the tools and skills they need to make a better life, in turn keeping families together and strengthening communities. A wise investment in these programs can have huge rewards.”
“Our prisons should be rehabilitative,” said Luis Sepúlveda, New York State Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on Crime Victims, Crime and Correction. “Individuals who participate in educational programs while incarcerated are more likely to gain employment, continue learning, and become contributing, law-abiding members of society when they are released to their communities.”
“The Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI) at John Jay College of Criminal Justice report, Mapping the Landscape of Higher Education in New York State Prisons, is an unprecedented analysis of the current state of New York’s college-in-prison and correctional education programs,” said Assemblyman David I. Weprin, New York State Assembly Correction Committee Chair. “I would like to thank PRI for providing this comprehensive data and look forward to using this information in my own work to improve New York’s criminal justice system.”
“When formerly incarcerated New Yorkers return to their communities without the tools and education they need to succeed, we are all worse off,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. “As this report shows, critical investments in prison education programs – like my office’s $7.3 million investment through the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (CJII) – as well as support from corrections officials, educational institutions, and policymakers, can help to ease that transition and ultimately drive down recidivism. I commend John Jay College and the Prisoner Reentry Institute on the publication of this report, which highlights key opportunities to expand college education in prisons, and I thank them for their continued partnership with our office.”
“With the leadership of colleges, and the support of the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, foundations, and elected officials, New York has established an impressive network of college-in-prison programs” said Prisoner Reentry Institute Executive Director Ann Jacobs. “Working together, we have the foundation needed to expand and integrate the current patchwork of providers into a system that reaps the many benefits of providing education to people while they are incarcerated.”
This report was made possible thanks to funding from the Ford Foundation, David Rockefeller Fund, and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
About the Prisoner Reentry Institute
The Prisoner Reentry Institute (PRI) is a center of research and action at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice/CUNY. PRI is committed to providing opportunities for people to live successfully in the community after involvement with the justice system. Capitalizing on its position within a large public university and recognizing the transformational power of education, PRI focuses much of its work on increasing access to higher education and career pathways for people with conviction histories. PRI’s comprehensive and strategic approach includes direct service, research, technical assistance, and policy advocacy. For more information, visit https://justiceandopportunity.org/ and follow us on Twitter at @JohnJayPRI.
About John Jay College of Criminal Justice
An international leader in educating for justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York is a Hispanic Serving Institution and Minority Serving Institution offering a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. John Jay is home to faculty and research centers at the forefront of advancing criminal and social justice reform. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College engages the theme of justice and explores fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit www.jjay.cuny.edu and follow us on Twitter at @JohnJayCollege.