Cornell’s Prison Education Program (CPEP) has received $750,000 in grant funding from the College-in-Prison Reentry Program, an effort to expand educational opportunities at correctional facilities across New York state.
Cornell is one of seven colleges and universities in New York awarded grants totaling $5 million to provide college-level classes, training and re-entry services at 17 state prisons over the next five years. CPEP operates at the Cayuga, Auburn, Elmira and Five Points correctional facilities.
Announced Aug. 7 by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., the awards are funded by the Manhattan DA’s office through its Criminal Justice Investment Initiative. The initiative backs transformative projects to prevent crime and improve public safety and the justice system with $250 million seized in international financial crime prosecutions.
Cuomo unveiled the college education program in 2016 as part of a common-sense criminal justice reform package through his Right Priorities Initiative.
“New York continues to stand out as a leader in pushing for criminal justice reform and in thinking of education as a vehicle for decreasing the scale of mass incarceration in the United States,” said Robert Scott, CPEP executive director. “A year or so ago this seemed to be the direction the country was heading in its thinking. The federal administration had a similar initiative proposed, using the Pell Grant to fund prison education.”
There was growing bipartisan support at the federal level earlier in the decade for proactive measures addressing mass incarceration, Scott explained.
“Now New York is distinguished for having done that,” he said. “Other states, such as Indiana, have experienced a reduction of college in prison programs in recent years.”
About 1,000 incarcerated individuals in New York state now receive college-level instruction each year. The College-in-Prison Reentry Program will make classes and training available to more than 2,500 additional inmates across the state, increasing the current number by 500-600 each year through grant and matching funds.
Cornell has pledged to add seats for 50 more individuals to its program over the life of the grant, “but over five to six years it may be much more,” Scott said.
Providing education is crucial in preparing a person in prison for successful re-entry into the community, Cuomo and Vance said.
“Prison isn’t just about serving time for one’s crimes. It’s an opportunity to help those who have made mistakes rehabilitate and rebuild their lives,” Cuomo said.
Participants in prison education programs are 43 percent less likely to return to prison and 13 percent more likely to obtain employment after their release, according to a 2013 study by the RAND Corp.
“It makes no sense to send someone to prison with no pathway for them to succeed when they get out,” Vance said. “Investing in college education programs is a proven, cost-effective way to break the harmful cycle of recidivism and keep our communities safe.”