Governor Cuomo and DA Vance Announce Statewide Initiative to Provide College Classes in Prison

January 11, 2016

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced a $7.5 million initiative to fund educational programming at New York State prisons to help qualifying inmates earn college degrees, which will support an individual’s successful reentry into the community and reduce recidivism. The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is funding the college-in-prison program through the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative (“CJII”), which was created to provide grants for programs improving public safety, crime prevention, and fairness in the justice system. 

“For all the progress we have made, far too many of our young people end up trapped in our criminal justice system with no path out—and it’s time that changed,” said Governor Cuomo. “It can’t be that every door is closed except the revolving one back into prison. We must break this vicious cycle for the betterment and safety of our communities and countless families across the state.”

“Reentry programs are the most meaningful, cost-effective way to reduce recidivism and improve public safety,” said District Attorney Vance. “As a law enforcement agency, my Office will continue to enforce the law and seek prison sentences for those who are convicted of serious crimes and pose significant risks to others. However, sending someone to prison without a reentry strategy fails to recognize that individual’s potential for positive change and the eventual ability to reenter the community. Education programs give incarcerated individuals the best chance to get out and stay out of the prison system, breaking a harmful cycle of recidivism, and ultimately promoting public safety.”

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office will provide $7.5 million over a five-year period to fund educational programs at prisons operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, funding approximately 800-1,000 participating individuals over the next five years. Participants will have the opportunity to receive college-level instruction and earn an Associate’s degree, Bachelor’s degree, or industry-recognized certificate. The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, technical assistance consultant for CJII, will manage the program on behalf of the District Attorney’s Office.

Educational institutions are invited to submit proposals to ISLG for college-level classes to be administered at multiple New York State prisons beginning in the fall of 2016. CUNY and SUNY will partner to oversee and coordinate educational programming among selected grantees. 

Currently, college education programs at state prison facilities are privately funded, carry waitlists, and may not be standardized across programs, preventing many inmates from making significant progress toward the completion of a degree. Just over 1,000 incarcerated individuals presently receive college-level instruction a year, and that capacity could be increased by an additional 500 individuals per year through a combination of the CJII grant and matching funds. In addition to coordinating education programs, CUNY and SUNY will be responsible for developing educational standards for all in-prison college education programs as well as creating transfer mechanisms that will allow participants to continue their educational track in the community and build on progress made in prison.

“We are pleased to be a central part of this important initiative,” said CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken. “A college education is vital to accessing opportunities. This will ensure that when inmates leave prison and return to our communities, they have the education and skills they need to pursue jobs and succeed.”

“The State University of New York is proud to be a part of the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative to help inmates prepare for academic and workforce success following their release from prison,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “Providing college access to this population will benefit not only those who take advantage of our programs as students but also New York’s economy and its communities across the state.”

As part of the initiative, a third-party research entity will also be selected to evaluate the effectiveness of the college-in-prison reentry program, which is designed to reduce recidivism and encourage positive community reengagement upon an individual’s release from prison. According to a recent report published by the RAND Corporation, individuals who participate in education programs in prison are 50 percent less likely to recidivate and return to prison; participants are also 13 percent more likely to obtain post-release employment.

Moreover, reentry programs are cost-effective and offer long-term fiscal returns: On average, a $1 investment in correctional education reduces incarceration costs by $4 to $5 during the first three years post-release. 

The college-in-prison reentry program is funded through CJII, which was established by District Attorney Vance to invest criminal forfeiture funds in projects improving public safety, developing crime prevention strategy, and promoting a fair and efficient criminal justice system. The CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance is responsible for guiding project selection, providing program oversight, and monitoring the performance and impact of CJII-funded projects.

Please visit ISLG’s website to view the Request for Proposal for the initiative.