By Christopher Zoukis
The Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP) provides college degree courses for persons in upstate New York prisons. Believing that “any person can find instruction in any study,” the leaders of CPEP see this education as a fundamental part of any successful re-entry program.
CPEP launched after an act of Congress and the resulting legislation ended taxpayer funding for college programs in state prisons. Believing this to be wrong, as the data show education can reduce recidivism by more than 60 percent, a small group of instructors volunteered to teach in the Auburn Correctional Facility. The movement grew into CPEP.
Recently, CPEP received a huge boost – a $1.7 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (AWMF).
The AWMF was established in 1969 by Ailsa Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon. As of December 2017, the foundation has bestowed $6,806,485,000 in endowments. In 2017 alone, it provided $302,120,000 in grants.
The AWMF was born through the consolidation of the Avalon Foundation, which had been established in 1940 by Andrew W. Mellon’s daughter, Alisa Mellon Bruce, and the Old Dominion Foundation, established in 1941 by Andrew W. Mellon’s son, Paul Mellon. After the consolidation in 1969, the foundation’s assets were in excess of $200 million.
With a mission to “strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies,” the AWMF issues grants in higher education and scholarship in the humanities, arts and cultural heritage, diversity, scholarly communications, and international higher education and strategic projects.
The AWMF grant to CPEP will be used in part to continue offering educational programs in four prisons and will also be used to increase the number of courses offered while enhancing existing programs.
“CPEP is distinguished by its unique emphasis on bidirectional education. Incarcerated students receive a liberal arts education, while graduate students and undergraduates from campus receive an engaged education in the criminal justice system,” said Robert Scott, executive director, in a media interview. The initiative seeks to be a model for prison education nationally – any support, monetarily or otherwise, assists with this direction.
The grant period will last for three years, during which time CPEP hopes to double the number of students earning associated degrees.
For additional support and mentorship, CPEP partners with the New York Department of Corrections, Community Supervision, and six educators from various colleges and universities.
The incarcerated population has a daily uphill struggle for recognition, rights, education, and chances to do better in life. The stigma of prison follows long after being paroled. Thoughtful organizations like CPEP and the AWMF are necessary to keep prison education programs alive – as education is the key factor in lasting prison reform. The generous grant from the AWMF will provide far-reaching benefits long after the three-year grant period has ended. The grant period may not be indefinite, but the benefits certainly are.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily News, Prison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.