Earlier this month, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) announced the start of an NYU college program at Wallkill, a medium-security male prison in Ulster County.
Typically, college programs in New York’s prisons take up one three-hour time slot, or “module” – sometimes daily, sometimes weekly – and inmates take real college classes, taught by real professors. It takes a lot longer to finish a degree in prison, but for those who do so, the odds of recidivism are much lower.
Changes in funding eligibility – the fact that federal programs don’t fund higher education for prisons in the way they once did – have challenged the existence of collegiate programs in prisons, but fortunately some facilities have still been able to get private funding for education. In Auburn Correctional Facility, Cornell University runs a prison education program funded by a foundation run by Warren Buffett’s sister, Doris. In total, the state system offers privately funded degree programs at 21 of its 54 prisons. (Last year Andrew Cuomo proposed adding state-funded education initiatives at 10 facilities, but the suggestion faced considerable opposition and was not implemented.)
Acting New York State DOCCS Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said, “This private partnership will undoubtedly give inmates a second chance, future opportunities, and help break the cycle of re-incarceration. Since the central goals of replicating college behind bars are to prepare more inmates to be employable, to support their families, and to lead law-abiding lives both in their communities and behind the walls, the Ford Foundation and NYU have taken DOCCS one step closer to achieving these goals.”
Starting in spring of 2015, 36 Wallkill inmates will take one of two NYU classes, and more offerings will be available in the summer. The credits they will earn will be NYU credits and, after their release, they will have the option to transfer their credits elsewhere or apply to finish at NYU.
Between 2006 and 2013, New York State inmates earned 566 associate’s degrees, 236 bachelor’s degrees, and 103 master’s degrees. Hopefully, with the addition of another prison college initiative, that number will continue to increase every year.