Across New York State, nearly 40,000 currently incarcerated individuals lack the critical opportunity to pursue higher education, necessary for economic and professional growth. This shortfall is, by design, perpetuating a cycle of mass incarceration as recidivism rates in New York reach 40%, further limiting individual and regional economic growth and overall well-being.
For the nearly 300,000 formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, barriers to reentry into society remain steep, often dependent on attaining some form of higher education. To provide a better chance for incarcerated New Yorkers to build new lives upon release, prisons across the state have implemented accredited education programs, which historically have reduced recidivism rates by 28%.
By now, it is clear that a lack of in-prison college opportunities for the incarcerated is a moral, economic, and social justice crisis. Within New York alone, opportunities for in-prison education are not evenly dispersed. Many of these vital courses are taught in eastern New York despite the acute need for such opportunities in the western region.
Recognizing the need for in-prison education in western New York, the Foundation granted $107,500 to the University of Rochester’s Education Justice Initiative (REJI) which provides incarcerated individuals access to college classes and opportunities for intellectual engagement. Through their programming, REJI aims to graduate incarcerated students with associate degrees by educating and empowering a community of learners with rigorous coursework and robust extracurricular activities in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences.
From Fall 2016 through Summer 2021, 28 REJI faculty taught 40 courses to more than 150 incarcerated students in 4 correctional facilities; and, since 2020, REJI has supported and mentored six formerly incarcerated undergraduate and graduate students in the Rochester area through its Justice Scholars program. REJI also educates the Western New York community about mass incarceration through symposiums, film screenings, and lectures.
Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the infamous prison uprising at the Attica Correctional Facility, REJI will now start providing college-level degree paths for prisoners at Attica, continuing to expand the program as the hub of western New York’s prison education service.
We must continue to expand college education opportunities in New York’s prisons, for the future of our most vulnerable neighbors and our communities at large.
Learn more about the Rochester Education Justice Initiative here.