Restore NY Tuition Aid for Incarcerated People (Guest Opinion by Lola W. Brabham)

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Lola W. Brabham is president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), based in Albany.

As Chair of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), representing more than 100 independent private and nonprofit colleges and universities in New York State, I support the Turn on the Tap Coalition and support Governor Kathy Hochul in her efforts to restore tuition fees. Funding for the Assistance Program (TAP) for incarcerated persons.

A year after the federal government revoked incarcerated Pell Grants in 1994, New York State followed suit, assigning students to prisons across the state and drastically reducing in-prison college programs.

Almost three decades later, in 2020, Congress reinstated Pell for incarcerated people. It’s time for New York to do the same with TAP. Here’s why:

Restoring TAP for incarcerated people will help ensure their access to education. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that nearly 45% of the general population is college educated, but less than 5% of those incarcerated in the United States. Worse still: almost 70% of adults in prison want an education, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Restoring TAP for incarcerated people could triple the number of incarcerated people graduating. And it will increase higher education opportunities for people of color who are disproportionately from the communities most affected by overpolicing and mass incarceration.

Restoring TAP for incarcerated people will improve their job opportunities. A 2013 report by the RAND Corporation showed that people who attended college while in prison were 13% more likely to find work after release than those who did not.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics notes a strong correlation between education and income. In 2017, vocational degree graduates earned three times as much as high school graduates. And those with an undergraduate degree earned about $900/week more than those with a high school diploma.

Restoring TAP for incarcerated people will reduce recidivism. Numerous studies show that university programs in prison reduce recidivism. A study by the RAND Corporation reports that students who participate in correctional education programs are 43% less likely to return to prison than those who do not.

One of CICU’s longtime members, Bard College, is proof of the value of college programs in prison in reducing recidivism. Since 2001, the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) has graduated 600 students who lead successful and productive lives.

BPI Notes:

“Once they return home, BPI graduates become independent taxpaying citizens. They work in business, the arts and the media; they attend higher education; they pursue a career in human services. Virtually none return to prison.

BPI has a three-year recidivism rate of less than 1% compared to the national rate of nearly 50%.

Currently, 12 independent sector colleges in New York offer programs in 18 state prisons.

Restoring TAP for incarcerated individuals will improve New York State’s economy and save taxpayers money. The RAND Corporation reports that investing $1 in prison education can save a state $4-5 in incarceration costs. By some estimates, reinstating TAP will save New York State up to $27.5 million annually.

New York State Senator Robert Jackson and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubrey sponsored legislation to restore TAP funding for incarcerated New Yorkers. I urge their colleagues in the Legislature to support this effort in the 2023 New York State Budget.

Restoring TAP for incarcerated students is a win-win situation, not only for incarcerated students, but also for their families, our communities, and our economy. So let’s turn on the TAP.

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