As incarceration rates among women increase, the College and Community Fellowship (CCF) of New York has determined to respond with gender-based programming that helps provide access to higher education for women. CCF’s programs and partners also help women released from prison find housing and other services they need in order to help them find success in the their lives post prison. The programs offered by CCF have seen recidivism rates reduced by half among their participants and, to date, they have helped women earn forty-six Associate degrees, 120 Bachelor degrees, sixty-one Master’s degrees, and one PhD.
Introduction to CCF’s Programs
Founded in 2000, CCF developed a platform to help women who have been incarcerated change their lives through access to higher education. Their program is quite unique because it is a multifaceted approach. Founders understood that mere access to college isn’t enough; they realized that participants required other services to support their educational goals. Along with programming designed to help women attend state and city colleges, there are programs designed to help women obtain important life skills like financial literacy and learn the importance of networking, for instance. Mentoring and meeting as a community of women is also an essential component of CCF’s platform. Their program is far from other re-entry programs that offer short-term assistance. CCF is helping to dramatically change impoverished and previously incarcerated women’s lives to decrease the likelihood of a return to prison and to enhance the lives of participating women for the better.
The Program at Work
Members of CCF visit women’s correctional facilities to present their program and describe its opportunities for women upon their release. Navigating the college application process can be difficult. On its website, CCF reported that “Research shows that 90% of soon to be released prisoners identify education as a top priority. What is lacking is not desire, but opportunity” (collegeandcommunity.org/motivation.html). They help create the opportunity for women released from prison by steering them through the process of applying for admission to college as well as financial aid. Moreover, they continue to work with women as they attend courses by supporting them with tutoring and mentoring services. Some women require help finding employment, childcare, housing, etc…so CCF and its partners work to match these women with the help they need.
Community is the Heart of the Programming
CCF operates under the belief that helping formerly incarcerated women make better choices and change their lives through education ultimately supports communities as a whole. This sense of community is a program constant. The women are never alone and as they work their way through the program, they may in turn give back to the CCF community by becoming mentors and ultimately give back to their local communities by becoming leaders and demonstrating personal growth and positive change for the people around them—their families and neighborhoods.
Community meetings are integral to the program because they allow women to connect in a safe environment that nurtures networking and the sharing of opportunities. Women meet and, in turn, inspire one another and also encourage each other as they face challenges of every sort. The sense of community is a strong force that fosters the guidance that so many women need as they try to stand on their feet and change their lives for the better.
New participants to the CCF program are referred to as clients. Once they earn twelve credits of coursework, they are called fellows. Upon earning their degrees, they are referred to as alumnae. All are valued by CCF as they infuse the program with success—each participant’s success is a positive reflection of the program that strives to help women achieve lasting change through higher education. The women who take part in the program are low-income and formerly incarcerated inmates of New York correctional facilities. They are at increased risk for returning to prison which is why the program was created—to alter this course and combat climbing recidivism rates among women.
According to CCF, “While 66% of incarcerated non-degree earners nationwide are likely to return to prison within three years of release, the likelihood drops to 5.6% for Bachelor’s degree recipients and less than 1% for Master’s degree recipients.” Education allows former inmates the chance to find a good job and a good job is as good a ticket out of poverty as anything, as statistics demonstrate. CCF operates in conjunction with other prison-based programs and community initiatives. Fueled by donations from individuals and organizations alike, CCF has grown to become a model that other states may want to consider to enact change in their communities too.