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July 10, 2016

"Inmates in NY get an Ivy League education behind bars"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy CBS News piece.  Here are excerpts:

Inside Building 82, down the hall from the cosmetology course, Columbia University Professor Christia Mercer is teaching philosophy. If education is said to free the mind, it is the only freedom a group of particular students in Bedford Hills, New York have. These students are inmates at the Taconic Correctional Facility in Bedford Hills.

"So having done Plato and thought about early Christianity, Roman notions of virtue, we now have a chance to really think seriously about Augustine and his views, and I think it's really pretty mind-blowing, right?" Mercer asked the class.

Perhaps more "mind-blowing" is the transformation from prisoner to pupil. Cecile Davidson is serving one to three years for grand larceny.  "Right now we're working on Plato, Socrates, and just the thought, the mindset of Socrates before he went into prison," Davidson said.

"I believe Plato.  I believe that if you separate the body from the soul, you can obtain that truth," said another student, Leah Faria, whose "truth" includes a second-degree murder conviction.  Faria has been incarcerated 19 years and goes before the parole board for the first time in 2018....

Faria is one of nearly 900 students enrolled throughout New York state prisons in an education program, offering associates, bachelors and even Master's degrees from some of the country's most elite universities.  Twenty-two colleges and universities — including Columbia, Bard, Cornell and Vassar — send professor behind walls in the empire state every week.

"It's basically pretty easy," said Columbia University Professor Mercer. Easy, because Mercer does not change the course much, even in a prison system where 50 percent of the inmates — one out of every two — didn't graduate from high school. "We did teach Aeschylus and Euripides and so on ... so I am not lowering my standards at all," Mercer said. "That would be an insult to them."

In fact, Mercer — a distinguished member of the faculty at one of the most prestigious universities in the land - admitted that even she has been schooled while behind bars, when teaching the play "Twelfth Night" by Shakespeare. "In all my years of thinking about the play, I've never heard anyone give an argument for why it was inappropriate to treat Malvolio in the way that he was treated," Mercer said. "It was just this astonishingly insightful analysis of this play in ways that I had never thought of before....

This fall, New York's education program will expand, over the objections of state lawmakers, who rebuffed Gov. Andrew Cuomo's request for more money.  So instead, Cuomo teamed up with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance to divert $7.5 million in criminal forfeiture money to add at least 800 more students.

"This is a public safety issue. I know that data supports my decisions and therefore, I think the citizens of the state should understand that this makes sense in terms of community safety," Vance said.

According to the state, 39 percent of New York's inmates commit another crime once they get out. But with a college degree from the program, the recidivism rate slides to 16 percent - a drop of more than half. "They don't come back into our system. And that's really how we know it works," said Linda Hollmen, director of education for New York's Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

July 10, 2016 at 10:28 AM | Permalink

Comments

Imagine that, inmates leaving much better off than when they entered the ststem.

Whats our goal, rehabilitate, respect for the law and a litlle punishment.

Getting college it even technical training for most, is a big positive change for them.

Keep up the great model that is working, propagate and expand on this America.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jul 10, 2016 11:14:05 AM

Who's paying for these college educations, and if it's the state or the federal government, why aren't these educations available to prisoners in every state?

Posted by: kat | Jul 10, 2016 4:36:08 PM

Kat it sounds like its NY state and is limited to college, perhaps.

Posted by: MidWestGuy | Jul 10, 2016 11:53:28 PM

Rehabilitation is great and important.

I wonder if anyone considered providing a free education to the crime victims or their survivors?

What do you think?

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Jul 14, 2016 9:22:38 AM

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