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
BPI Alumna Stacy Burnett, a writer and current College & Community Fellowship (CCF) fellow, tells her story as a response to an article about the state of college-in-prison in New York in The Gotham Gazette. Read the full article below: To the Editor: Regarding "New York College-in-Prisons… Read More
BPI alumnus Dyjuan Tatro ’18, government affairs officer for the Bard Prison Initiative, recently penned an op-ed on the value of investing public funds in college in prison. This article, reproduced below, first appeared in the New York Daily News. Read the full article below: The… Read More
By Dyjuan Tatro
The movement for criminal justice reform in New York has made some progress lately. The Legislature eliminated cash bail for most low-level offenses and passed broad discovery and speedy trial reforms. The governor has begun to grant clemency, albeit in a limited manner. In New York City, the City Council has voted to close Rikers Island.
Yet so much more needs to be done.
To date, the criminal justice reform movement in New York has been focused on sending fewer people to prison and getting some people who should not be there out, but little is happening to equip people who are incarcerated for life back in their communities when they’re released.
The overwhelming majority of these individuals will be released from prison with only a bus ticket and $40 in their pocket. That’s it.
It should come as no surprise that 40% of them will be back in prison within three years. The rest will struggle to find housing, jobs and a place in society.
My story was different. On Aug. 10, 2017, I was released from prison after having served 12 years. I didn’t just have a bus ticket and $40; I was a Bard College student.
Two weeks later, I began taking advanced math courses and working on my senior project. By the following May, 41 weeks and one day later, I graduated from Bard College with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. I walked across the stage on the college campus in Annandale-on-Hudson, and Bard President Leon Botstein handed me my diploma.
That summer, I went to work on Sean Patrick Maloney’s attorney general campaign as his criminal justice policy adviser. I then went on to be a project manager for a major software developer. Today, I am the government affairs officer at the Bard Prison Initiative.
What made these opportunities possible for me? A liberal arts education. I applied to BPI in 2013. I took the entrance exam, sat through the interview, and then sat in my cell each day hoping for an acceptance letter. It finally came. That moment forever altered the course of my life.
For the next four years, I worked harder than ever. I took a full course load, four or five classes each semester. My courses were rigorous and identical to those offered to students on Bard’s main campus. I joined the debate team. As a member of the debate team, my teammates and I defeated Harvard in 2015.
Unfortunately, most people incarcerated in New York State won’t have the same types of opportunities as I did, not while inside nor when they get out.
The 1994 Crime Bill ended federal Pell Grant eligibility for people in prison. Soon thereafter, New York, along with many other states, ended tuition assistance to incarcerated people. As a result, the number of college-in-prison programs offered nationally dropped from about 800 to fewer than 10.
New York State spends $69,000 a year to keep someone incarcerated. It costs BPI only $9,000 a year to educate its students. Comprehensive studies have shown that, for every dollar a state spends on higher education in prison, it saves at least four times that much on reincarceration costs.
Quite simply, college in prison saves us money. But it’s more than just a matter of dollars and cents. Providing educational opportunities in prison can turn something designed only to be punitive into something transformative, and that’s worth so much more to our communities and society as a whole. Yet, of the 46,000 people currently imprisoned across New York State, fewer than 900 have access to higher education right now.
If more incarcerated women and men had the same type of opportunity I had, who knows what they would achieve. I’m willing to bet that they would defy common expectations.
Tatro is government affairs officer for the Bard Prison Initiative.
As College Behind Bars puts a spotlight on the issue of college in prison, 25 years after the removal of Pell Grants for people in prison, BPI Alumnus Darren Mack '13 shares his thoughts on higher education’s role in criminal justice reform and the… Read More
When my day begins with my phone buzzing 10 times in a row, it’s usually a bad sign. This time was different. My friends were going wild because a follow-up story about our debate team’s 2016 victory against Harvard University was trending on Apple… Read More
PBS documentary shows how higher education helped me remove the shackles of incarceration. College degrees in prison can do the same for others. I am choosing to publicly out myself as a convicted felon in this column. Let me tell you why. In March of… Read More
On Wednesday, September 18th, BPI Restart Fellow and coordinator, Ornell Caesar '16 joins fellow BPI alum Antoine Patton '12 and Jenn Schiffer for Changing the Face of Tech: a Tech & Reentry Gathering. This first gathering has been organized in partnership between Restart and… Read More
BPI alumnus Alex Hall ('17) authored an essay describing the societal and personal value of a rigorous liberal arts education in the series Education Against All Odds. The full essay, reproduced below, can also be found on David Bryne's Reasons to be Cheerful website here.… Read More
BPI alumnus Alelur Duran ('18) authored an essay urging criminal justice movements to push beyond reforms aimed only at non-violent drug offenses arguing "It will be a shame if our country’s criminal justice system continued to treat people with nothing but prison sentences by… Read More