Update | Alumni Advocacy

A Call to Action: Merit Board Eligibility

To the BPI community,

Since early this year, BPI has been working with New York lawmakers to change Merit Board eligibility criteria so that incarcerated students with convictions classified as non-violent can be eligible for early release based on earning college credits. I am proud to announce that on July 21, 2020 the NYS Assembly passed A9543A to include college credits in the Merit Time Eligibility Criteria. Now, the NYS Senate needs to pass its version of the same bill, S7633. I am writing to ask for your help in advocating for the passage of this bill.

The system for early release in New York State, outside of the general good behavior allowance, is divided between the Merit Board, which is for people with non-violent convictions, and the Limited Credit Time Allowance, which is for people with violent convictions. While enrollment in college counts as criteria for early release under the LCTA, participation in a college program is not included as part of the Merit Board criteria. 

This inconsistency in the Correction Law disproportionately penalizes women who are more likely to have non-violent convictions. Of BPI students, women are much more likely than men to be eligible for a Merit Board. Often, the women impacted are those who come to prison having already completed a high school diploma or equivalency (and cannot, therefore, earn merit time by doing so). These students enroll in college, but as they get closer to release, they learn that they must drop their college courses in favor of merit-eligible programs such as vocational training. 

If college were included in the Merit Board eligibility criteria, no one would have to decide between dropping out of college and staying in prison longer. This is a false choice. College is proven to be one of the most effective means to successfully reintegrate someone into society. As it now stands, this discrepancy in the law affects an estimated 15% of female BPI students, and, we assume, many more incarcerated people in general.

Please consider supporting the proposed legislation. You can use this link to tell your senator to support senate bill S7066: 

https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2019/s7633/amendment/original?intent=support

Help us spread the word and stay tuned for more from us on this important issue soon. 

Sincerely,

Dyjuan Tatro ’18

Government Affairs & Advancement Officer, BPI