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NYS Prison-to-College Pipeline (P2CP)

The goal of the Prison to College Pipeline (P2CP) is to increase the number of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people who go to college and succeed there. In a broader sense, the initiative tests a model for the vital role that public universities might play in using higher education to promote successful prisoner reentry and, by extension, generate safer and more robust communities.

The Prison to College Pipeline is an initiative of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, one of the senior colleges of the City University of New York (CUNY). P2CP represents a dynamic partnership between two major public institutions: CUNY and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The initiative addresses a question posed by John Jay College’s President, Jeremy Travis, “If over 700,000 people are leaving our prisons, how should the nation’s educational institutions be organized to help them make a successful transition to free society?” The P2CP recognizes that part of the answer involves both work in the correctional system and work in the community. The initiative, thus, includes strategies to:

  • Contribute in a variety of ways to the intellectual life of prisons;
  • Identify and develop candidates for college while they are in prison;
  • Assist people returning to the community in continuing their education in college; and
  • Provide support to college students with criminal records to increase their retention, timely graduation, and subsequent employment.

In the fall of 2011, after a year of work to design the program model and establish the necessary relationships and protocols, P2CP started delivering classes at Otisville Correctional Facility, a medium security men’s institution approximately two hours from New York City. The students were selected from a pool of applicants who had their high school diploma or GED, were eligible for release within five years, and who passed the CUNY reading and writing assessment tests. Candidates then submitted essays and were interviewed for the available slots in the inaugural class. Through a partnership between John Jay College, Hostos Community College and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, P2CP has served a total of 56 students since August 2011:

  • 26 students incarcerated at Otisville Correctional Facility and 30 students from John Jay’s campus in New York City who attended monthly seminars with the students at Otisville.
  • 12 Otisville students have been released to the community.
    • 4 are successfully enrolled in CUNY institutions, two at John Jay, one at Hostos Community College and another at Bronx Community College; 2 others have started the enrollment process.
    • All are currently employed, enrolled in a training program or internship
    • None have  returned to prison
  • Recruitment for the Fall 2014 semester has begun at three correctional facilities, Otisville, Greene and Wallkill.
  • P2CP has completed its first developmental education course serving 11 students. Additional courses are planned for the spring/summer 2014

Elements of the pilot include:

  • Academic Coursework—Students are enrolled through the CUNY Justice Academy, a partnership between Hostos Community College and John Jay College. They earn college credit taking foundational courses taught weekly in the prison by John Jay and Hostos faculty.
  • Workshop Series—Bi-weekly sessions focus on the skills, attitudes, and behaviors associated with “Success in College and in Life.”
  • Learning Exchanges—John Jay students join DOCCS students in monthly seminars taught by CUNY professors that expose them to a diverse range of disciplines.
  • Reentry Planning—A community partner, the Osborne Association, conducts social service needs assessments and develops case plans for men while they are still in prison. These plans address the range of individual reentry needs: residence, subsistence, treatment and health issues, family concerns and compliance with criminal justice conditions, and connect the person with a case manager in the community who sees him when he is released.
  • College Placement—Another partner, the College Initiative (CI), meets with P2CP students to help them determine their desired course of study, choose the appropriate CUNY college(s) or community college(s), apply for admission and for financial aid. CI also matches students to mentors who work with them at least throughout the first year of college in the community 

Four characteristics distinguish the P2CP:

  • Based in the public system of higher education—This feature is vital because of the rich history CUNY has of providing quality education to typically under-served communities and, for financial and other reasons, our students are more likely to pursue their educational within the CUNY system than in private institutions. There is also a potentially important role for SUNY in this initiative.
  • Educational timing—P2CP tests the hypothesis that college work in the three to five years prior to release can be pivotal in setting a positive course for reentry, making it more likely that someone will pursue educational opportunities when released and, ultimately, succeed in college and a career.
  • Pipeline program model—This model leverages limited resources for in-prison programs and ultimately serves more people by starting college in prison with the intention of funneling students into college in the community to finish their degree. To that end, all students in the program that maintain passing grades are guaranteed a seat in a CUNY institution upon release.
  • Learning exchanges—Seminars that bring John Jay students into the prison classroom have a dual purpose of exposing students in prison to a traditional college classroom experience and providing John Jay students with first-hand experience of prison and prisoners. The exchange is life altering for students from both groups.


The connection between higher education and reduced recidivism has been established through research. In one study, individuals who earned an Associate’s degree were 62 percent less likely to return to prison than those who did not (Batiuk, Lahm, McKeever, Wilcox and Wilcox 2005). The College Bound program at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York was the subject of the 2001 study Changing Minds, which included a quantitative analysis on the rate of recidivism of the 274 prisoners who participated and 2,031 female offenders released between 1985 and 1999. The study found that 36 months after release, the women in the Mercy College program had a 7.7 percent return-to-custody rate while the non-participants had a 29 percent return-to-custody rate (Fine et al. 2001). Moreover, participants in higher education programs had higher levels of employment and wages than those who completed other education programs (Jenkins, Steurer, and Pendry 1995).

 A cost-benefit analysis conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles found that the cost to the state per crime prevented by offering education to inmates is about $1,600; the cost per crime prevented by extending prison sentences is $2,800. In other words, “[a] $1 million investment in incarceration will prevent about 350 crimes, while that same investment in education will prevent more than 600 crimes. Correctional education is almost twice as cost effective as incarceration.” Given the strong evidence that education can serve as a powerful force for overcoming the negative effects of incarceration—including increasing labor market potential, as well as promoting societal advancement—focusing resources on this initiative promises to reap significant public benefits.


The John Jay College Prisoner Reentry Institute engaged Dr. Michelle Fine of the Graduate Center to study the shift in identity that occurs when someone with a criminal history becomes a college student, and the factors that support and inhibit their engagement and success in college. This work has been undertaken as Participatory Action Research (PAR) and will be published in the spring of 2013.

Currently, PRI is framing additional research into the life course of P2CP students with special attention to their experience of education and their criminal justice involvement before, during and after incarceration. The research is being conducted by Kevin Barnes-Ceeney, Ph.D.


On Wednesday, September 4, 2013, Bianca Van Heydoorn, the Director of Education Initiatives at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, along with Krystlelynn Caraballo, visited The Doe Fund’s dispatch center to thank the organization for the important work that they do with the college’s Prison-to-College Pipeline program. Full story here.

The John Jay Magazine highlights the Prison-to-College Pipeline in an article entitled Opening Up a Pipeline: Education Program Helps Pave the Way for Prisoner Reentry.

Criminal Justice Matters travels to Otisville Correctional Facility in upstate New York to examine a pioneering program that helps offenders attend CUNY colleges after their release. It’s called the “Prison-to-College Pipeline” and was the brainchild of John Jay Professor, Baz Dreisinger. Also on the program is State Assemblyman Jeff Aubry from Queens, an ardent champion of education in prisons who helped get the Prison-to-College Pipeline off the ground. See the interview here.                        

For more information, please contact Baz Dreisinger, Academic Director, at bdreisinger@jjay.cuny.edu, Bianca van Heydoorn, Director of Educational Initiatives, at bvanheydoorn@jjay.cuny.edu, or Ann Jacobs, Director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute, at ajacobs@jjay.cuny.edu.