Post Prison @ SFC
College Opportunities for the Formerly Incarcerated
Sara Haviland (Co-Director) / Emily Horowitz (Co-Director)
Nickie Phillips (Co-Director) / Eric Platt (Co-Director)
The Post-Prison Program began in 2014 as a cooperative endeavor with Hudson Link, a non-profit organization offering prison-based college studies in New York State for over a dozen years with noteworthy success. To date, Hudson Link’s alumni have earned over 300 degrees with a recidivism rate of less than 2% compared to a national average of 43%. The Post-Prison Program at St. Francis is inspired by Hudson Link and other organizations that privately fund education for prisoners (state and federally funded programs for prisoners were largely terminated in the mid-1990s), but specifically seeks to help individuals who began their college studies while incarcerated but were unable to complete their degrees prior to their release. We also assist those who sought educational opportunities while incarcerated but were unable to access accredited programs due to their limited availability. Thus far the Post-Prison Program has enrolled 11 students. Our first cohort of 3 students graduated in May 2018. We are particularly proud that one of them already has a full-time position as a criminal justice advocate in a national organization that lobbies against solitary confinement policies. Students in our program have received St. Francis scholarships, state and federal aid, specialized academic supports, re-entry support, and social service agency referrals. Students report that the program provides structure, safety, support and a sense of belonging, mastery and self-esteem. Professors report the students to be engaged, diligent, responsible, committed, and enjoyable.
Faculty and staff donate time to the program as part of their service to the college and are not compensated or given course releases for student mentorship. Since 2014, the NYU Law School Prison Reform & Education Project has volunteered time to mentor and tutor St. Francis post-prison students as well as co-host events to help students develop social and professional networks.
Our program was designed to assist those leaving prisons to complete a college degree while re-entering the community. We apply the existing highly successful prison-based higher education model to a community-based higher education setting. The re-entry process is traumatic, and helping students finish a college degree in a supportive environment is one way to both ease the transition back to the community while providing social networks and career opportunities to an at-risk population. Ultimately, it provides another opportunity to reduce recidivism and increase community safety.
St. Francis College is an ideal institution for a program for the formerly incarcerated, because it directly relates to the College’s commitment to disadvantaged and first-generation college students and its historic outreach to those most in need. Located in downtown Brooklyn near many community-based justice programs and social service organizations, St. Francis offers an ideal location as the majority of those leaving jail and
prison in NY facilities relocate to the five boroughs of New York City. The St. Francis program offers constructive supports for this population including:
- For-credit remediation classes (if required)
- Transfer of applicable college credits attained in prison programs (including non-traditional religious and professional programs)
- Enhanced academic support including mentoring and dedicated faculty advisers
- Stipends for textbooks
- Enhanced social supports with social service and criminal justice organizations
- Coordination with parole and/or probation supervision
- Summer jobs and internships
- Social Events for students to build social and professional networks
Potential students are referred to St. Francis College by Hudson Link as well as other non-profit and state agencies that supervise and assist those re-entering the community after prison. The St. Francis program has received positive media and press attention (see attached file of links), and we now regularly receive letters from lawyers and inmates requesting program information. Applicants are pre-screened for college-completion readiness and success by faculty, Hudson Link staff or staff at other re-entry programs, current students, and St. Francis College’s administration. Accepted students pursue their degrees accompanied by intensive monitoring, ongoing assessment, and integrated social service supports within a rigorous college program as detailed above.
To review, the overarching need being addressed is the lack of opportunities for formerly incarcerated men and women to complete college studies they began or sought out while in prison but were unable to complete before their release. The achievement of a college degree is a need the formerly incarcerated share with the general population but has even greater significance for these at-risk individuals because of the positive impact it has been shown to have in reducing recidivism. Likewise there are needs particular to this population which when adequately addressed make persistence to graduation much more likely, including targeted academic advising, personalized support, and integration into both the College and their residential communities. And the positive effects of degree completion will trickle down to the communities where our program’s graduates and their families reside further reducing crime, supporting families and building the local economies.
The College believes and studies bear out that job seekers with a college degree are better positioned to secure meaningful employment and that the jobs college graduates obtain offer higher remuneration (60% higher than non-high school graduates and 40% higher than high school only graduates) and fulfillment. The achievement of a college degree and the securing of gainful employment increases self-esteem and self-confidence, which in turn supports the re-integration of the formerly incarcerated into the life of the community while discouraging recidivism. With its Franciscan emphasis on compassion,
hope and redemption, the College believes that empowering the formerly incarcerated for productive contributing careers to be a win/win endeavor. Thus far, the program has shown to have a positive impact rippling throughout the College population, the families and communities from where our program participants are drawn, and all of greater New York. Project timeline/anticipated budget:
The Post-Prison program is an ongoing program at St. Francis College. We seek to enroll 3-5 additional students each semester until we reach our goal of 25 students enrolled each semester. The College is committed to raising funds to cover tuition costs that are not met by state and federal aid so that students are able to graduate from St. Francis without personal loans or debt. In addition, a private foundation has committed to buying books each semester for the students for each year that the program runs.
We would like to grow our program so that we can A) Eventually support 25 formerly incarcerated students per semester B) Offer a dedicated space on campus for these students to work, study and receive tutoring and guidance, with access to a dedicated administrative assistant; C) Assist other small colleges to develop similar programs to help this growing population and to build awareness for our program in those communities most harmed by mass incarceration; and D) Continue to host events and a yearly conference that are free and open to the public to in order to attract new students and raise awareness about the collateral consequences of mass incarceration (see below for a summary of the inaugural 2018 conference).
- Gradually Increase the number of program participants to 14-16 with an ultimate goal of 25 by Fall of 2023;
- Continue to host a minimum of 2 events per semester for the College and greater New York area institutions of Higher Education and Criminal Justice Reform as well as a
- yearly daylong conference in collaboration with community-based organization specializing in prison re-entry services;
a. Designed to raise awareness about the significance of supporting students with criminal justice histories
b. At least one event each semester will specifically address how earning a college degree during the traumatic re-entry process supports community reintegration and safety
c. Demonstrate the replicability of our program
- Publicize the program internally and in the NYC community and build relationships with other similar programs in the NY-area
- Create an annual report about the employment status of all students who’ve graduated since May 2018 and work with our Media Relations office to publicize the program and the outcomes.
Post-Prison College Opportunity Program 1st Entering Class, Fall 2014, with Hudson Link and SFC Staff
Pictured (L to R): Arielle, Emily Patka (Hudson Link Staff), Felix, Todd Young (Hudson Link Alumnus), Emily Horowitz (SFC Program Director), Tara, Andy, & Johnny.
Hudson Link @ St. Francis is led by a team at St. Francis College and Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison www.hudsonlink.org which includes:
St. Francis College Faculty Co-Directors:
- Sara Haviland
- Emily Horowitz
- Nickie Phillips
- Eric Platt
Hudson Link for Higher Education in Prison:
- Sean Pica, Executive Director
- Todd Young, Alumni Coordinator
On November 14 and 15, St. Francis College Post-Prison Program welcomed more than 250 guests to the first annual Prison Reentry, Reform and Possibilities Conference. Politicians, artists, activists, and formerly incarcerated individuals examined topics ranging from the realities of punishment while incarcerated, to the challenges of re-entry after prison.
Since 2014, the Post-Prison Program at St. Francis has enrolled 14 full-time students, giving formerly incarcerated men and women a chance to pursue higher education. Three of the students from the inaugural cohort graduated with their Bachelor’s degrees in 2018.
This two-day conference aimed to highlight the achievements of the Post-Prison Program, while examining the moral and religious implications of reentry programs and raising awareness about the innovative programs for those currently in prison.
Keynote speakers included Chris Owens, Director of the Re-entry Bureau at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office; Vaughn Mayers, from the Office of Senator Kevin S. Parker; Assemblywoman Latrice Parker; and NYS Assemblyman David I. Weprin, Chair of the Corrections Committee.
The conference revolved around a series of panels. The first, moderated by Dr. John Edwards (Associate Professor of Religious Studies, St. Francis College), explored the concept of redemption in religious thought. Panelists included Dr. Jenny Labenz, a Jewish Studies scholar; Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim Educator and Founder of Bridging Cultures; Rev. Barbara E. Davis Executive Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan; and Joshua Stancil, a Catholic activist who was formerly incarcerated. Panelists discussed how their own religious traditions offered room for understanding and critiqued the judicial system for failing in this area.
The second discussion focused on the St. Francis Post Prison Program. The panel featured current students enrolled in the program– Steuben Vega, Kevin Smith, Luis Pelaez– and Felix Colon, who graduated from St. Francis in May. The students all spoke of the challenges of prison, and how attending St. Francis offered them not only an education and degree, but support, mentorship, and social networks during the challenging re-entry process. The panel was moderated by Keston Jones, a formerly incarcerated person currently pursuing a doctorate at Yeshiva University and founder of the Foundation for the Advancement and Rehabilitation of the Marginalized.
The final panel of the day, moderated by conference co-organizer Dr. Michelle Gantt (Education Supervisor of the Metropolitan Detention Center) discussed the importance of education programs within prisons. With input from Dr. Christa Mercer of Columbia University, K. Bain of Cure Violence, and Nick Franklin of the Brooklyn Public Library, panelists discussed how education programs can be transformative for incarcerated men and women.
In addition to panel discussions, there was a screening of the documentary film Cooler Bandits, and a performance by Theatre for Social Change. One of the most powerful aspects of the conference was a full-size replica solitary confinement cell and virtual reality experience coordinated by Johnny Perez (SFC ’18) of the National Religion Campaign Against Torture. Doug Van Zandt of the New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement, constructed the cell onsite in Callahan Center and offered tours of the cell, along with Felix Colon (SFC ’18).
This Conference was hosted in partnership with the President’s Office of SFC, and in collaboration with Dr. Michelle Gantt of the Metropolitan Detention Center and Johnny Perez, SFC ’18, National Director of Prison Programs at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.
Higher education is one of the most power deterrents to crime and reincarceration. College transforms a person’s sense of self and the ways that a person relates to his or her family, community, and the world. In this sense, higher education transforms the lives of students and their children and promotes lasting transitions out of prison1. Study after study has demonstrated that education, particularly higher education, is one of the most effective ways to break cycles of poverty, incarceration and re-incarceration because higher education creates “[i]nroads of advanced education in communities that suffer from a chronic lack of access.2”
- Recidivism rates for incarcerated people who had participated in prison education programs were on average 46 percent lower than the rates of incarcerated people who had not taken college classes.3
- 90% of jobs in the fastest growing occupational groups require postsecondary education.4
- The inverse relationship between degree level and recidivism rate is not surprising given that a college education has become one of the most valuable assets in the United States. A bachelor’s degree is now worth more than $2.8 million in lifetime earnings.5
- Among those who start at the bottom rung of the income ladder, 45% remain there in adulthood if they do not have a college degree compared to only 20% who do so if they obtain a degree.6
1 Fine, M., et al., 2001, Changing Minds: The Impact of College in a Maximum Security Prison," (2001), available at web.gc.cuny.edu/che/changing_minds.pdf. ; Steurer, S.J. and Smith, L. G., 2003, Education Reduces Crime: Three State Recidivism Study, Management & Training Corporation, Centerville, Utah. Available at http://www.mtctrains.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/0 :Open Society Institute. 1997. Education as Crime Prevention: Providing Education to Prisoners. Research Brief, Occasional Paper Series No. 2. Author.
2 Karpowitz, D., & Kenner, M. (n.d.). Education and Crime Prevention: The Case for Reinstating Pell Grant Eligibility for the Incarcerated. New York: Bard College.
3 Chappell, Cathryn A. 2004. Post-Secondary Correctional Education and Recidivism: A Meta-Analysis of Research Conducted 1990-1999. Journal of Correctional Education 55(2): 148-69.
4 National Governor’s Association. 2010. Help Wanted: Matching Jobs to Degrees. Complete to Compete, Briefing Paper, Author. Available at 2010
5 Carnevale, A.P., Rose, S.J. and Cheah, B. 2011. The College Payoff: Education, Occupation and Lifetime Earnings. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Available at http://cew.georgetown.edu/publications/reports/
6 Pew Charitable Trusts. 2012. Pursuing the American Dream: Economic Mobility Across Generations. Washington, DC: Author. Available at http://www.pewstates.org/research/reports