Build prison-to-school pipeline


To the editor:

As a member of Northwest Bronx Indivisible’s steering committee, and as chair of the CUNY Brooklyn College English department, I write to call your readers’ attention to the importance of supporting reinstatement of the New York State Tuition Assistance Program for incarcerated people who wish to begin or complete a two-year associate’s or a four-year bachelor’s degree program.

The cost of keeping someone behind bars is $70,000 a year. Tuition at any of the CUNY senior colleges is $6,930 for a full year (12 credits or more each semester), or $305 per credit. The difference is enormous: The cost benefit of getting a college degree is incalculable for the individual behind bars, and for those of us on the outside.

Giving inmates the opportunity to study for a degree while in prison increases the likelihood that they will find productive, remunerative work once they leave.

Such work dramatically decreases the rate of recidivism by 51 percent, aaccording to a Rand Corp., study.

New York misguidedly abandoned TAP for prisoners in 1995. Bringing it back would reduce the strain on our state budget. Equally important, restoring TAP would help to dismantle the structural racism that undergirds our failed “carceral-state” approach to solving social problems.

Many good people have decried our de facto school-to-prison pipeline. Reinstating TAP would go far to create the opposite: A prison-to-school pipeline that would increase the odds for permanent re-entry into the community. All New Yorkers would benefit.

Restoring TAP for the incarcerated is now a budget item before the state legislature. Restoring the program is a social justice measure that should be one of a number of items in a package of social justice legislation to be voted on this session.

Others may be ending solitary confinement, the possibility of parole for all incarcerated people 55 and older, or ending incarceration for low-level marijuana infractions.

To find out more about the benefits of TAP for incarcerated people and all New Yorkers, go to TurnOnTheTAPNY.org.

At a recent Northwest Bronx Indivisible town hall, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, when questioned, left us with no doubt that she supported the reinstatement of TAP for those who are incarcerated.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, chair of the Assembly’s codes committee, on the other hand turned nostalgically to the far-off days when CUNY was free for all students.

I urge your readers to write to Assemblyman Dinowitz to vote for the reinstatement of TAP in the legislative session’s budget negotiations. The April 1 deadline for the budget is fast approaching.

Ellen Tremper

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Ellen Tremper,