Syracuse Post Standard Publishes Op-Ed by CICU President Lola W. Brabham Calling for Restoration of TAP for Incarcerated Individuals

News Date: 3/29/2022

The Syracuse Post-Standard published an op-ed authored by CICU President Lola W. Brabham calling on lawmakers to restore access to New York's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for incarcerated individuals in the FY23 New York State Budget.  

Restore NY tuition assistance for incarcerated individuals (Guest Opinion by Lola W. Brabham)

By Lola W. Brabham | CICU

Lola W. Brabham is president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), based in Albany.

As president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), representing 100+ independent private and nonprofit colleges and universities in New York state, I stand with the Turn on the Tap coalition and support Gov. Kathy Hochul in her efforts to reinstate Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding for incarcerated individuals.

One year after the federal government revoked Pell grants to incarcerated individuals in 1994, New York state followed suit, affecting students in prisons statewide and significantly reducing in-prison college programs.

Nearly three decades later, in 2020, Congress reinstated Pell for incarcerated individuals. It’s time for New York to do the same with TAP. Here’s why:

Reinstating TAP for incarcerated individuals will help ensure their access to education. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that nearly 45% of the general population have a college education, but less than 5% of people in U.S. prisons do. What’s worse: Nearly 70% of adults in prison want an education, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.

Reinstating TAP for incarcerated individuals could triple the number of incarcerated individuals earning their degrees. And it will increase opportunities for higher education for people of color who are disproportionately from communities most impacted by excessive policing and mass incarceration.

Reinstating TAP for incarcerated individuals will improve their job opportunities. A 2013 report by the RAND Corporation showed that people who attended college in prison were 13% more likely to find work after release than those who did not.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics notes a strong correlation between education and earnings. In 2017, people with professional degrees earned three times more than those with a high school diploma. And those with undergraduate degrees earned about $900/week more than those with a high school diploma.

Reinstating TAP for incarcerated individuals will reduce recidivism. Study after study shows that college-in-prison programs reduce recidivism. A RAND Corporation study reports students participating in correctional education programs have 43% lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not.

One of CICU’s long-standing members — Bard College — is proof of the value of in-prison college programs in reducing recidivism. Since 2001, the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) has graduated 600 students who go on to lead successful, productive lives.

BPI notes:

“After returning home, BPI alumni become independent taxpaying citizens. They work in business, the arts, and media; they attend graduate school; they have careers in human services. Virtually none return to prison.”

BPI has a three-year recidivism rate of less than 1% as compared to the national rate of nearly 50%.

Currently, 12 New York Independent Sector colleges have programs in 18 prisons statewide.

Reinstating TAP for incarcerated individuals will improve New York state’s economy and save taxpayers money. The RAND Corporation reports that investing $1 in prison education can save a state $4-$5 in incarceration costs. By some estimates, reinstating TAP will save New York state up to $27.5 million annually.

New York State Sen. Robert Jackson and Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubrey have sponsored legislation to reinstate TAP funding for incarcerated New Yorkers. I urge their colleagues in the Legislature to support this effort in the 2023 New York State Budget.

Reinstating TAP for incarcerated students is a win-win, not only for incarcerated students, but also for their families, our communities, and our economy. So, let’s turn on the TAP.