John Jay Offers Much Needed Opportunities to Prisoners

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2006 at 10:09 pm

I don't always turn to TV shows for information on social and political topics, but in an old episode of OZ i watched last night, one of the characters offered a thought provoking quote. The man, a prisoner, compares his own goals to those of a caseworker who aims to rehabilitate inmates by saying "You're trying to make this place better, i'm trying to destroy it."

While the two men disagree on the means to an end, they both agree that the state of the prison system is horrible. This leads me to the story of a program I read about in this weeks City Limits online magazine. A program that both characters could recognize the benefits of.

The program, called the College Initiave, was created by Episcopal Social Services in 2002 and picked up by John Jay College recently. This program offers a new way for incarcerated people to get an education – after they are released.

In the past, college programs for prisoners have been held within prison wallls. While these programs have proven to be very effective, much of the Federal and State funding for them has been cut back in the last ten years or so. The City Limits article outlines a brief history of this as follows:

"Efforts to educate prisoners got a boost in the 1970s, when post-secondary schools nationwide developed educational programs in prisons with the support of the federal Pell Grant, allowing incarcerated people to earn various degrees…"

"The results have been impressive: In a 2000 study conducted over three years, New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS) reported that roughly 30 percent of women who didn’t attend college while in prison were re-incarcerated, compared to 8 percent of women who did attend college."

"Despite such evidence, federal funding for many prisoner college programs was eliminated by the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act over a decade ago. More than 350 college programs established in prisons nationwide were shut down. New York followed suit and pulled state funds. Only a handful of college programs remain in New York prisons, including satellite programs of Bard College, Marymount Manhattan College, and Nyack College."

The College Initiative creatively offers similar possibilities for prisoners, but doesnt rely on these funding sources or college classes that take place within the confines of prisons. It reaches out to prisoners before they are released, helps them apply to college, offers a college prep program, helps them apply for financial aid, and in some cases even helps raise funds to assist prisoners in other aspects of their life while they pursue their degrees.

In a world where prisoners are released into society with little education, little to no job opportunities, broken links to community and family, and high rates of drug addiction and disease, a program like this offers a breath of fresh air. 


Here's a little background on prisoner reentry from The Urban Institute's review of But They All Come Back: Facing the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry, a book by John Jay President Jeremy Travis (The full article can be found here):

"In 2002, more than 630,000 individuals left federal and state prisons, roughly 1,700 a day. Thirty years ago, just 150,000 men and women made a similar journey annually."

"In 1973, there were just over 200,000 people in state and federal prisons; in 2003, there were 1.4 million people. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 5.6 million U.S. residents have served time in prison. At current incarceration rates, nearly 1 in 15 persons born in 2001 will be imprisoned during his or her lifetime."

"Former prisoners face significant hurdles as they exit prison. Most leave with low educational levels, extensive family obligations, prior criminal involvement, and poor ties to the workforce. This population is also contending with extraordinarily high levels of communicable diseases, chronic disease, mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction. For instance, an estimated 16 percent of state inmates have a mental condition or have spent at least one night in a mental hospital or a mental health facility. Some 450,000 prisoners released each year abused drugs or alcohol before entering prison."

"Two-thirds of former prisoners will be re-arrested within three years of their release from prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Nearly half will be convicted of a new crime, and a quarter will return to prison for these new convictions."

  1. what i need to know is there any pall grants for prisoners at this time .
    my son is in the florence az prison all by himself in one cell he wishes to get an education and have something to fall back on when he comes out is there any way you can help me?

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