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Center for NuLeadership applauds Cuomo’s prison college program

By DR. DIVINE PRYOR and EDDIE ELLIS, Co-founders of the Center for Nu Leadership | 2/27/2014, 4:39 p.m.

The Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions applauds Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s announcement to implement a statewide initiative to provide state funding for college education in prison for incarcerated individuals. This is a judicious decision that invests in not only human development, but also economic savings and development for society at large, as well as the communities that are most impacted by crime and incarceration.

As the governor so aptly stated, “The proof is in the pudding,” and no one can attest to this better than the founders of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, the nation’s first and only public policy, advocacy, research and training institution designed and developed by formerly incarcerated individuals, all of whom were formally educated in New York state prisons.

The purpose of establishing a center comprised of formerly incarcerated individuals with advanced degrees was to combine the experiences of individuals directly impacted by incarceration with the benefits of academic knowledge to solve complex problems in urban communities.

The education and unique analyses of the founders are the primary reasons why they were sought out by many policy makers, philanthropists and elected officials as experts on criminal justice issues who could seek a more effective approach to implementing key criminal justice policies.

The founders of the Center, and those who have become a part of this well-established think tank, have demonstrated the importance of attaining an education. Since the establishment and incubation of the Center at Medgar Evers College in 2003, the contributions that it has made to influence the criminal justice debate have been enormous.

The Center has provided expert testimony to city, state and governmental bodies on innovative ways to reduce recidivism, increase public safety and provide pathways to success. The recidivism rate of the founding members—which is zero—is a testimony of how their education has allowed them to immediately begin to contribute to society after their release from prison.

As responsible citizens, they have raised families, trained and educated endless numbers of young men and women, made substantial financial contributions to society, acted as positive role models to many and transformed the perspectives of countless numbers of criminal justice practitioners.

The Center currently provides technical assistance to both governmental and nongovernmental agencies that are interested in improving the way they service individuals who have been entangled in the criminal justice system. Most recently, the Center completed a successful community engagement technical assistance contract with the New York City Department of Probation’s Neighborhood Opportunity Network initiative that has won accolades among criminal justice practitioners and policy makers nationwide.

The benefits of providing a college education in prisons are multifold and well-established. The impact of higher education as one of the most powerful deterrents to crime and incarceration is evidenced through research findings and live examples found in the professional network of the Center. The likelihood of recidivism drops from 46 percent to 5 percent for recipients of bachelor’s degrees and less than 1 percent for recipients of master’s degrees.

Education transforms an individual’s sense of self and the ways that a person relates to his or her community, family and society at large. When formerly incarcerated persons gain employment, they are far less likely to rely on public assistance.

There is no better example of the power of education than a group of individuals who have used education as the very tool for individual, community and societal transformation. The Center has and continues to be a living testimonial of this fact and one of the most stalwart examples of the endless possibilities that an education can offer.

For more information, visit www.centerfornuleadership.org.