Higher Ed. in Prison is Smart Policy

Gabriel Torres-Rivera

Every year, thousands of people return home from prison in New York. As these formerly incarcerated men and women seek to re-connect to family life, jobs, and their communities, they face tough legal barriers that can derail their efforts.

At CSS we work to assist formerly incarcerated New Yorkers and their families in multiple ways, including through the monthly NY Reentry Roundtable, which CSS convenes. It’s our belief that plans for reentry should begin as soon as someone is incarcerated. For that to work, prisons and jails must provide inmates with the tools and resources they need to succeed.

Research shows that education is key to successful reentry, yet less than 3% of incarcerated individuals have access to higher education in prisons. That’s why we’re excited about the Education from the Inside Out Coalition’s #HigherEd4All Campaign to eliminate barriers to higher education faced by currently and formerly incarcerated individuals.  In particular, the campaign seeks to restore Federal Pell Grant and NY State TAP Grant eligibility.  TAP restoration was also on the 2013 Reentry Roundtable Advocacy Day Agenda.

As a formerly incarcerated person myself, I can attest to the role education has played in helping me build a career, make a good life for my family, and contribute to the community. In my case, I was able to take college courses during my incarceration and continue on after my release, earning a degree in education and a law degree. 

It’s no secret that education transforms lives, helping people overcome barriers that keep them from achieving their goals.  That is especially true for those with conviction histories.

Here are 5 great reasons to support higher education for prisoners:

• Employment is key to successful reentry. Education prepares people for decent, sustainable jobs.
• The overall recidivism rate of over 40% drops to 13% for those with a BA degree.
• Education is cost-effective: The average yearly cost to taxpayers for incarceration per individual in New York is $54,000.
• Even those facing long sentences benefit from education, by sharing knowledge and inspiring others, including family members and fellow inmates.
• Everyone benefits from strategies that help people move forward as active, contributing members of their families and communities.


Gabriel Torres-Rivera, JD
Director of Reentry Initiatives

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