In Orange County, New York one correctional facility is taking a unique approach to preparing inmates to reenter society as productive citizens.
The Otisville, N.Y correctional facility sponsors the John Jay Prison to College Pipeline Program, directed and founded by Baz Dreisinger, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The program offers select inmates the chance to earn college credit and, once released, finish their degrees in the City University of New York System.
The broad curriculum ranges from grammar, to Toni Morrison and even Art History according to talentrefresh.com. The inmates get to take part in college level academic coursework and, once a month, join other college students in seminars according to the City University of New York.
To qualify for the program an inmate must have a high school diploma or GED and must be eligible for release within five years. The program began three years ago, but now faces potential funding problems. According to The New York Times, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed plan to finance prison education was blocked by lawmakers; Cuomo now hopes to obtain private financing.
“I understand the sentiment,” Cuomo told the Times. “I don’t agree with it, but I understand it, and I understand the appearance of it.”
One of the program’s participants, Devon Simmons wrote an award-winning piece arguing for the importance of funding prison education. He noted that he and his fellow classmates were able to excel in the program despite the lack of materials, including PowerPoint, encyclopedias, and even Internet access.
Most prison education programs are aimed at preventing recidivism, but for Dreisinger that is not enough.
“These guys reoffending is the last thing I’m worried about,” he said.
Without a solid education many believe that the prisoners will not be afforded the social and economic opportunities they need to become productive citizens.
Studies show that 66 percent of non-degree earners are likely to return to prison within three years, that number drops sharply for those holding a Bachelor’s degree. Recently released inmates who are less likely to rely on public assistance free up money that can be used for other areas, proponents argue.
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