D.A. Vance’s Written Testimony in Support of S790/A3975

February 4, 2020

Chairs Stavisky and Glick, and members of both committees, thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony in support of bills S790 and A3975, which repeal the ban on financial aid for incarcerated persons.

In 2015, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office joined with the Governor’s Office to expand college in prison programming across the State using asset forfeiture dollars, and subsequently launched a five-year College in Prison Reentry Initiative, providing $7.3 million for post-secondary education in DOCCS facilities and a blueprint for a cohesive statewide college in prison strategy. Funding from my office will end in July of 2022 and my office does not have the resources to provide an extension.

I am testifying to call your attention to the need for a scalable and sustainable funding stream for this important and successful program.

As an elected district attorney, my mandate is public safety. I proudly committed considerable resources to college in prison because higher education is the single most effective way to ensure desistance from crime. It has the power to change minds and unleash human potential, significantly improving a student’s chances of thriving once released. Studies have found that, conservatively, students who participate in college recidivate at half the rate of their counterparts. Additionally, a cost analysis performed by the RAND Corporation found that every dollar spent on correctional education saved taxpayers $4-$5. A modest investment in college in prison will support the continued decline of New York’s prison population, garnering savings for the State while increasing public safety.

The past three years have seen significant development in post-secondary education in New York State prisons through not only our joint Initiative, but also through the federal Second Chance Pell and private philanthropy. Across the state, 20 college programs involving more than 30 institutes of higher learning currently operate in 30 correctional facilities. Even so, this work combined reaches only about 1,500 incarcerated people in New York State prisons out of approximately 13,000 who are eligible. These numbers demonstrate a significant missed opportunity.

New York is perfectly positioned to roll out the most comprehensive state college in prison strategy in the nation. 2020 is the moment to act on this important issue by scaling and institutionalizing this programming with state resources, and as such, I recommend the restoration of the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for incarcerated persons. I believe that over time such an investment will yield financial returns, as well as improved public safety across the state.

With the legislature’s leadership, New York can create a model for the rest of the country.