The Impacts of College-in-Prison Participation on Safety and Employment in New York State: An Analysis of College Students Funded by the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative

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Access to education is in high demand among the incarcerated population. Postsecondary education offers an array of benefits to students who are incarcerated, their families and communities, public safety, and safety inside prisons. Yet the gap in educational aspirations and participation has been largely driven by a lack of capacity due to limited funding.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative funded the College-in-Prison Reentry Initiative (CIP) to close this gap by expanding access to college education in prisons throughout New York State. In this report, Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) researchers unpack the impact of participation in degree programs offered by seven colleges participating in CIP and reveal the potential that college in prison can have on in-facility behavior, recidivism, employment, and income after release. Vera additionally presents a cost analysis of program delivery and potential expansion, in order to better understand the potential return on investment of such initiatives.

Key Takeaway

College-in-prison programs appear to reduce the risk of reconviction by about two-thirds, while securing for students the numerous advantages inherent to education. Continued investment in postsecondary education in prisons is essential to unlock the myriad benefits to individuals, as well as to communities and public safety.

Publication Highlights

  • Vera researchers estimated that participation in prison-based college education significantly reduced the risk of reconviction for a new offense by about 66 percent.

  • College in prison can foster a sense of community, enhance social and familial obligations, boost motivation and aspirations, promote self-reflection, and improve empathy.

  • Most people in prison aspire to and are qualified for higher education. Yet, funding for these programs is often insufficient—and colleges remain cautious about becoming dependent on government funding.

Key Facts