By Manolo Morales.
This year there have been approximately 100 incarcerated men from Otisville Correctional Facility who applied to the John Jay Prison to College Pipeline Program that would allow them to earn college credits while still being in prison, but there were only fourteen slots available.
The program is oriented towards men who are within three years of release to get a head start on earning college credits for their education. The program’s goal is to make these men prioritize college as a positive reinforcement back into society and in doing so, the program aims to reduce recidivism.
Baz Dreisinger, an English professor, offers and teaches a class at the prison. She said that the program “offers incarcerated men, and eventually women, an opportunity to take college classes while in prison and then transition directly into college upon release.”
The pipeline program is funded by a private organization called the
. Dreisinger, along with teaching the prison inmates, is also the director of the program alongside Ann Jacobs.
Dreisinger hopes that the fourteen slots available will double as the program grows but, “Money is what keeps it small,”she said
Yet Dreisinger points out that funds should be increased because the more money spent on the program the more money, through the prison system, will be saved. Less people going back to prison will ultimately save more money.
“Education saves us money because for every dollar spent on incarcerating someone, you can spend fifteen cents educating them, so it costs twice as much to incarcerate as to educate,” she told The Sentinel.
Before being accepted into the program, however, the men have to take the CUNY assessment test for reading and writing and those who pass must then submit an essay. These essays are then read by the program personnel, who select the men they want to interview. The men who are accepted into the program are guaranteed a slot into any CUNY school of their choice.
Once a month, the men participate in a learning exchange program with John Jay students who go to the prison and engage with the men on various subjects.
“It’s an opportunity for the John Jay students here to see what goes on inside a prison environment, and meet these guys who probably don’t fit the image of a stereotypical inmate, so the students get to question their notions of what a stereotypical inmate is,” said Dreisinger.
Michelle Tsang, a junior majoring in Criminal Justice, is one of those students who is currently participating in the learning exchange program with the inmates of Otisville Correctional Facility.
She said that the program has allowed her to gain a new perspective of an inmate, “These individuals who are incarcerated are extremely intelligent but society does not see that,” said Tsung, who is glad to be part of the pipeline program and, surprisingly, has learned that these men have much to say.
She believes that these men deserve a second chance, and by helping them, we are preventing recidivism.
This program has increased Tsang’s interest in the prison system.
“I definitely want to help these individuals to start over and start some type of mentor-ship or something for them because I do see that they have a lot of potential, and they also have more motivation,” said Tsang, who hopes to continue helping these individuals to rehabilitate.
Krystlelynn Caraballo, a senior majoring in Forensic Science, is another student who volunteers in the learning exchange program with the inmates of Otisville Correctional Facility. This program is giving her an opportunity to interact with inmates on a personal level.
“When I entered the classroom for the first time, I was extremely nervous not because I was fearful of the inmates, but rather I was afraid I may say something stupid and offend them,” said Caraballo, about meeting the inmates for the first time.
Caraballo wants to help these individuals in prison because “there are both economic and moral reasons to wanting to educate these individuals,” Caraballo said. “First, if we do not educate these individuals, there is a strong likelihood that they will not fully understand the societal impact they are making.”
Dr. Kimora is an Assistant Professor in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department, who teaches criminal justice. She taught a class on ethics at Otisville Correctional Facility in December, 2011. Like Tsang and Caraballo, she also agrees that these incarcerated men are quite brilliant.
“I have come to learn that these men in prison are usually bright, creative, and deeply insightful,” she said.
Kimora believes that many of these men want to change, but they do not have the tools, that is when people like her come in to help.
Kimora has been teaching in various facilities for 23 years.
“The work is challenging and so interesting,” she said. “The clients are precious.”
Both Professors Kimora and Dreisinger agree that people should care more about educating people in prison.
“We are one family,” Kimora said. “We just need to realize all the folks in prison and jail and on probation or parole are our brothers and sisters who need to heal.”