Unchaining Minds

Babita Patel Nov 2, 2012

OSSINING, New York — During the 1990s, tough-on-crime crime politicians in states across the country eliminated public funding for prisoner education. New York was no exception, even though prisoners who earn a college degree behind bars are far more likely to go on and lead productive, crime-free lives after their release. Since 1998, Hudson Link, a nonprofit organization, and Mercy College have teamed up to offer accredited college degree programs at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. Currently, 132 men are enrolled. The annual expense of educating a prisoner is less than one-tenth of what it costs to lock him up and — the outcome can be priceless.

STAFFING: Alumnus Douglas Duncan (right) confers with Academic Coordinator Arlene Mohammed (left) on the clerical and administrative needs of the program. Prisons are self-contained worlds in which inmates run almost all work assignments.

HITTING THE BOOKS: Some of the men are the first members in their families to get a college education. Sean Pica, executive director of Hudson Link, says “Education changes a man from someone the community does not want as a neighbor into someone valued as a friend.”

BY THE BOOK: The curriculum, textbooks and placement exams for each class exactly duplicate those taught on the campus of Mercy College based in nearby Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

KNOT A PROBLEM: Alumni like Rashan Smalls help coordinate the graduation ceremony. They enjoy the festivities, the chance to put on a tie and the time they spend with family and friends.  

HIGH NOTE: Students who participate in Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program prepare to play “Pomp and Circumstance” for a new group of graduates.

ROLE MODEL: Isaias Irazary, class salutatorian, meets his three-month-old niece for the first time at his college graduation.

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