Last week, five students — Ryan Purcell, Roy Burvick, Danis Flores, Khalan Pendelton and Vincent Thompson — became the first graduates of NYU’s Prison Education Program. Even though the graduation was held in Wallkill Correctional Facility, it featured purple caps and gowns, as well as jazz music, heartfelt speeches and President Andrew Hamilton himself. All five graduates received associate’s degrees in Liberal Studies. This new program is an excellent example of NYU living up to its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. While the NYU administration deserves immense praise for piloting this program, much more can and should be done.
NYU’s Prison Education Program was announced in March 2015. The initiative encourages incarcerated individuals in the Wallkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in upstate New York, to pursue an Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Studies. As former imprisoned individuals face incredible prejudice once they are released from prison, the program aims to facilitate their reassimilation into society by providing students with an education, a step ahead, that will help them succeed above the discrimination. There are at least 12 courses offered per year and they are all administered in person and in a classroom equipped with technological devices. New students are admitted every academic year and they are supported by an amalgam of student resources, such as writing support, career advice, professional workshops, multimedia training, wellness services and social events. NYU PEP also provides support to help guarantee the students jobs and housing post-release and graduation.
There are other schools throughout the country that have similar programs in place, such as Ohio University, Colorado State University and Andrews University, to name a few. All of these school have different degrees available, ranging from bachelors to masters degree. With this in mind, NYU should follow suit and work to offer more degree options — beyond just an associate’s degree — especially considering the competitive nature of today’s job markets. The type of degree one carries in life is unfortunately often the determinant in whether someone will be able to live a stable life. If incarcerated people do not have quality job options upon being released, the possibility of rehabilitation is nearly impossible. Because of this, expanding this program is incredibly important.
NYU PEP is an excellent example of the NYU administration living up to the values it preaches. Because of this, it is vital that this program not only continues, but be expanded. There is immense potential here to educate more prisoners and to educate prisoners beyond the associate’s level. Hopefully, NYU will see this and make NYU PEP a priority in funding going forward. After all, this program provides much more value to students and to the world than any new building or facility ever could.
A version of this appeared in the Monday, Oct. 16 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]