For many modern-day high school students, graduating with a college-level degree is simply the next logical step in life; but for the 15 students of Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP) who will graduate on Dec. 10, it means a better chance at a jail-free future.
CPEP is one of at least eight college-level prison education programs in prisons in New York State that grant degrees to inmates. In March, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to fund and launch 10 more in-state programs following a 2013 study that shows participation in inmate education programs reduced recidivism – to re-offend and return to prison after being released – by 43 percent.
“It’s really scary the rate at which prisoners who are released end up back in prison,” Tom Owens, faculty director for CPEP, said. “That tells us that we’re not doing something as well as we should.”
The study, funded by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, found that of the approximately 700,000 individuals released yearly from federal and state prisons, about 67 percent will be reincarcerated, and about half of them within three years.
Cuomo said this is the motivation behind funding the programs, which will cost about $5,000 yearly per inmate, compared to the $60,000 yearly cost for housing a prisoner.
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