Commissioner Anthony Annucci of DOCCS, for that warm introduction and all the work he is doing to help New Yorkers re-enter their communities.
Kim DaCosta (Faculty Director of NYU Prison Education Program) for your vision
Superintendent Catherine Jacobsen of the Wallkill Correctional Facility, for your openness and contributions to the program.
President of New York University, Andrew Hamilton, Dean Susanne Wofford (of the Gallatin School) and Dean Gene Jarrett (of the College of Arts and Sciences) for welcoming these students into the NYU family.
Friends and family members, for supporting your loved ones, as they shift the trajectory of their lives for themselves and future generations of New Yorkers.
And most importantly, the graduates of 2019, who have overcome significant hardships to manifest excellence out of adversity.
When you six scholars applied to this program, you made a commitment to profoundly change your lives, regardless of the extraordinary challenges ahead.
And you did it. Now you are surrounded by your family, friends, college faculty, and colleagues who are here to watch as you make your history of the best type, and encourage you as you move ahead and make your future aspirations a reality.
Today, we celebrate your commencement — a new starting point. However, your degree itself is not the single measure of your achievement. So is the extraordinary work you put in to earn it.
You chose to consider incarceration, not as an ending, but as a set of circumstances under which to persevere, and a time to rewrite your story.
Not only that, from today forward, as a graduate of this program, each of you is an ambassador for the concept college-in-prison across New York State. Your success bears testament to the transformative power of education and demonstrates to New York policymakers that this is an investment worth making.
Some of you may be asking yourselves, why would a D.A. fund college-in-prison?
Well, as a technical matter, reentry should be important to all public servants sworn to execute New York’s penal law, since it’s right there as one of the stated purposes of the Penal Law: “The rehabilitation of those convicted and the promotion of their successful and productive reentry and reintegration into society.”
So, a foundational principle of our state’s criminal laws is not just punishment, but also successful reentry. What the law does not specify is: how do we ensure the success of our fellow New Yorkers who are on a reentry journey?
We focus on the future, not the past – because however we get to where we are in life, consequences do not always need to be final.
That’s why our Office created the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (CJII), using $250 million seized in international financial crime prosecutions to fund transformative projects to make a lasting impact on the criminal justice system.
Working with Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Annucci, we invested $7.3 million of those dollars in educational programming and reentry services at 17 prisons across New York State for five years, which is the equivalent of 2,500 seats for college-level education for incarcerated New Yorkers. Including, of course, here at Wallkill.
The result of our investment is New York’s first-ever statewide College in Prison program. And graduates, you are living proof that it works. Your achievement today will show lawmakers in Albany that we need to make this kind of public investment in College-In-Prison permanent and sustainable.
But today isn’t just about public policy. It’s about you. As you join the ranks of esteemed college graduates who came before you, I hope that this is milestone is only the beginning of the investments you make in yourselves, your families, and your communities going forward..
It’s an honor to be with you today to celebrate. Congratulations, graduates.