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August 25, 2019

Making the case for education as the means "to radically change the lives of the incarcerated"

Sean Pica has this new commentary headlined "The First Step is just the beginning. Here’s how to radically change the lives of the incarcerated." Here are excerpts:

"95 percent of all state prisoners will be released at some point in their lives. This includes most of the estimated 1,800 inmates incarcerated in Sing Sing Correctional Facility — a maximum-security prison located just 30 miles from New York City — and the place where I spent nearly 16 years of my life.

As more and more prisoners are being freed, some are skeptical that the incarcerated and those with criminal records are worthy of a second chance. They ask: is rehabilitation possible?  As a former inmate, I’m living proof that it is possible to reintegrate back into society and lead a productive life.  But to do that, the formerly incarcerated and those with a criminal record need a helping hand.

For me, it was being the beneficiary of bold thinking from the New York State Department of Corrections.  Thanks to their efforts, I was able to earn a college degree inside of Sing Sing through Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison. The nonprofit, which I now lead, provides a college education and reentry support services to incarcerated men and women in five New York correctional facilities.

Recently, I helped organize Hudson Link’s biggest graduation ceremony to date, 48 graduates in total — most of them minorities — with more than 400 family members, friends, and well-wishers cheering them on....  In its 21-year history, Hudson Link has helped more than 700 men and women earn a college diploma, saving New York state taxpayers over $21 million per year.  The program boasts a recidivism rate of less than 2 percent.

Thanks to partners like the nonprofit Stand Together Foundation and inspiring correctional leaders like Sing Sing Superintendent Michael Capra, Hudson Link is helping put an end to the vicious cycle of recidivism and inter-generational incarceration by breaking down barriers that prevent people from realizing their full potential.

Let’s move away from the tired mentality of seeing prisoners as a punchline and a liability to manage, but instead as men and women with the potential to accomplish great things.

UPDATE: Not long after posting this Pica piece, I came across this similar New York Daily News commentary by Darnell Epps headlined "Help former prisoners learn: Giving the incarcerated access to higher education helps them recover their humanity." Here is a snippet:

This week, classes begin at Cornell University for some 20,000 students, including me. It’s my senior year. I’m probably not the type you expect to see at Cornell, a university that graduated the likes of the Notorious RBG and billionaire magnate Robert Smith; no, my pathway included a 17-year prison sentence, for my role in a shooting.  Yet I hope my presence here — and my future success in pursuing a law degree — sends a powerful message that former prisoners can not only contribute to society, but can do important things....

The Crime Bill, signed into law 25 years ago, ended Pell Grants for folks in prison, eventually drying up funding and causing many colleges to withdraw from prisons altogether. That was a terrible mistake.  Today, federal lawmakers debate the language and scope of the Restoring Education and Learning Act — a measure that would give thousands of prisoners the chance to get some tuition help.  They must think big.

August 25, 2019 at 11:02 PM | Permalink


I love this piece for several reasons.

I will admit to being the lone star who picked education as the number one reason for punishment. Interestingly enough Sean Pica and I share a similar outlook for similar reasons. I served a two year bid in prison. What was my saving grace? It was actually a GED professor who told me that I am already testing on a level that would pass the GED test and a professor at a technical college who told me that I could mitigate the collateral consequences of my conviction solely by getting an education. At the time, I had no idea what the professor meant, but it began to come to light when I enrolled into college approximately four years after my release from prison. Like Sean, I influenced many inmates, family members, and friends to consider getting or furthering their education by getting my GED while I was incarcerated.

When it was time to write me Senior Honor Thesis this thinking came into play as well. I titled it: The Effects of Education and Post-Release Employment on Recidivism. It was clear that inmates who received an education before release were highly less likely to return than inmates who did not receive an education. I also found that individuals without an education makes up a high percentage of inmate population.

Posted by: James White | Aug 26, 2019 12:02:05 PM

In my opinion: When a convicted felon serves their full sentence and refuses parole because it would admit to guilt (when innocent) and a DA puts 10 years probation on convicted felons so that he can "yank them back into the system", his words; this is not justice.

Posted by: LC in Texas | Aug 26, 2019 2:05:36 PM

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