Emergency and disaster planning professionals commonly recognize the necessity of community participation in research, policy implementation, and practices promoting effective disaster preparedness. This is particularly essential for institutions serving society’s most vulnerable populations: those in precarious housing situations. And though institutions that provide housing… Read More
This post first appeared March 16th, 2020 and has been continually updated since then. For nearly a decade, BPI has been committed to engaging public health as a rewarding area of academic study and a promising career field, ripe for the contributions our alumni are… Read More
Through the COVID-19 crisis BPI alumni will be posting reflections about their work and response to the virus here. This is the first in a series. By Darren Mack, '13 Jails and prisons are hotbeds for the spread of coronavirus. Social distancing and self-isolation for the… Read More
Congratulations to BPI alumnus Joe Williams '13 who was honored tonight at the Annual Black Leadership Celebration in Brooklyn, hosted by Councilman Antonio Reynoso and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez in recognition of his work in the community. Williams completed his Associate’s Degree with BPI in 2011… Read More
BPI alumni Dyjuan Tatro and Giovannie Hernandez joined a United Federation of Teachers screening of College Behind Bars as part of UFT's Black History Month Film Series on February 27th and proudly announced to the audience of teachers that Bard College will be offering… Read More
Friday, March 20, 2020 1:30-3:30 p.m. Holyoke Library Community Room 250 Chestnut Street, Holyoke Please join us for a screening of highlights from the documentary film COLLEGE BEHIND BARS, about students in the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI), one of the most rigorous prison education programs in America. The screening… Read More
BPI Alumnus George Chochos '10 makes the case for the return of Tuition Assistance Program eligibility for people incarcerated in New York State prisons in City Limits. Photo by Gary Miller Original Publication Date: January 28, 2020 In 2001, I was one of over 70,000 people in… Read More
One of the first graduates of Bard Microcollege Holyoke, Candice Pelletier is now completing her Bachelor’s degree at Smith College on a full scholarship. Like many women who find The Care Center, Candice’s path to college took a few unusual turns. Despite Candice’s straight… Read More
By Stacy Burnett
From 2008 to 2013, I learned 67 uses for state-issued toothpaste. I learned the lights never go out in solitary confinement, and I learned my son was calling a complete stranger “Mom.”
While I realized education was the best way to straighten out my life, I also learned higher education is largely unattainable for New York’s incarcerated women since funding for education in prison was gutted nearly a quarter century ago. Had I learned something more substantial than toothpaste can also be tape, I would not have returned to prison a few scant years later. Returning to prison was statistically probable because I lacked the single most thing that prevents re-arrest: education.
Without education, my probability of being returned to prison was 40 percent. Given that it costs nearly $60,000 a year to incarcerate a person in New York, this is an expensive statistic. In my case, New York spent $300,000 to house me for five years, and with only $40 and a bus ticket to a community that did not want me, to say I struggled upon release is an understatement. Because of those perpetuating conditions, I wound up back in prison for two more years. That means New York has invested nearly a half-million dollars to warehouse me.
The second time, however, I attended Bard College through its Bard Prison Initiative. As a result of Bard’s investment in my education, it is highly unlikely taxpayers will have to pay for another term of confinement for me: The probability I will return to prison is 4 percent.
I am one of the 5 million people New York has released from prison since 1985. We are cashiers, clerks and housekeepers. But with education we can also be nurses, paralegals and architects. We don’t want food stamps and Medicaid. We want to be self-sufficient and contribute to our communities.
Since 95 percent of the people in prison will return home, as a nation, we must decide who we want as our neighbors. Do we want people coming home who are problems, or do we want people coming home who can solve problems?
Because the stark consequences and multi-generational impact on communities and families is now more evident than ever before, the era of mass incarceration is ending. New Yorkers know from experience not to expect transformation by warehousing people without access to resources. That, however, requires money.
Eliminating Tuition Assistance Program funding for people who are incarcerated was a misguided policy decision made without any basis in fact, and it failed to make our communities safer. The cost of restoring TAP would be negligible compared to the $3 billion New York spends on corrections every year. And the Vera Institute suggests that lifting the ban on Pell Grants for those in prison could save more than $365 million nationwide. These types of forward-thinking policies would allow programs like BPI to expand and ultimately change the lives of thousands of New York families.
Before I went to prison, I was opposed to college programs for people in prison. I couldn’t afford an education, so I didn’t believe people in prison deserved something I could not have. Why provide people in prison educational opportunities? The answer is simple: Education is the single best way to prevent criminal activity on both the inside and outside.
Right now, New York can make prisons and communities safer by restoring TAP funding so that education is available to this vulnerable population. With a 2020 vision for the future, it is time for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to turn on the TAP.
Stacy Burnett, of Queens, is a writer, formerly incarcerated Bard Prison Initiative student and current College & Community Fellowship fellow working on the Turn on the TAP campaign.
In January 2020, BPI faculty and alumni Robert E. Fullilove EdD, Anibal Cortes MPH '08, Richard Gamarra MPH '14, and Hancy Maxis BA '15 jointly authored an article in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) describing the value of college in prison and… Read More