How a College Degree in Prison Changed a Life
How a College Degree in Prison Changed a Life
Douglas Duncan dropped out of high school with little self-worth or hope for a future. Associations with the wrong people and a string of poor choices landed him in prison at the age of 24 with three young children at home.
“I believed that my life was over. I believed that I had no possibility of redemption. I believed that prison was all I was worth.”
Trapped in a personal prison of shame and self-loathing, Douglas lived in solitude at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. It wasn’t until he was accepted into Mercy College’s undergraduate degree program and began working toward a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science that Douglas was able to unlock parts of himself he had buried forever. Douglas graduated with his degree in 2007 and has gone on to pursue a master’s degree in professional studies from New York Theological Seminary.
Education changed Douglas’ life, and it also changed the lives of his children. His daughter Talesha shared,
“My father’s incarceration had a devastating effect on my life. My father enrolled in Hudson Link’s college program at Sing Sing, and he started to become a changed person. … My father taught me not to become a product of my environment or let the circumstances of my childhood negatively shape my future, but instead to work hard and pursue my dreams.”
Douglas was released from Sing Sing in 2014. He plans to work with youth to reinforce the power of education and help them choose paths to personal and professional success. You can read more about Douglas’ story here.
The Power of Prison Education
We often take education for granted. High school and college degrees are not just a means to better jobs. Education has the power to truly transform a life from the inside out, restoring hope for a second chance and a new life.
Enter Hudson Link for Higher Education, a non-profit organization that provides college education, life skills, and re-entry support to incarcerated men and women. Hudson Link recognizes the power of education to help incarcerated individuals make a positive impact on their lives, families, and communities. They provide a variety of support services from pre- to post release to ensure a student has the best chance to transition back into society and pursue meaningful work.
When the country’s elementary and secondary educational systems are plagued with problems, why invest in prison education? The answer is simple. The prison landscape is dismal, and the impact is undeniable.
• The United States is home to less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population.
• One in 100 adults is in prison in the United States.
• More than 40 percent of adult offenders end up back in prison within three years.
• In the state of New York, the annual cost of incarceration for one person is $60,000. With 56,000 adults incarcerated, the New York State Department of Corrections 2014 budget was $3.033 billion.
• In New York state, 61 percent of incarcerated persons have less than eight years of education, and more than 20 percent are illiterate.
• The positive impact of prison education reaches far beyond an individual. More than a credential, an undergraduate degree is an avenue to personal transformation. This is precisely why prison education programs across the country are joining forces to form a national consortium to represent higher education in prisons. These organizational leaders know firsthand the transformative abilities of their programs, and they are coming together to assemble their collective voice and fight for the rights of their students.
Hudson Link currently serves six facilities in New York state through partnerships with Columbia University, Nyack College, Mercy College, SUNY Sullivan Community College, Vassar College, Siena College, and Ulster Community College. College preparatory classes prepare students for the demand of high caliber curriculum, which parallels the education on-campus students receive. Incarcerated students can pursue a variety of associate and bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts and behavioral sciences that prepare them for meaningful occupations upon graduation and re-entry.
To supplement their students’ education, Hudson Link also provides a number of guidance services to ensure alumni are prepared to transition back to their families and communities. Services include alumni support, job preparedness, career mentoring, and professional development. Hudson Link serves each inmate with individualized wrap-around services to ensure success beyond graduation. And, their approach is working.
Compared to the annual $60,000 it costs to support one incarcerated individual, it costs only $5,000 a year to educate one. Consequently, Hudson Link saves New York taxpayers more than $10 million a year through education, re-entry skills, and a reduction in recidivism. Only four percent of Hudson Link’s alumni have returned to prison in more than 16 years of the program’s existence, compared to New York’s recidivism rate of 42 percent. Currently, over 350 students are enrolled in Hudson Link programs, and 435 degrees have already been awarded.
Hudson Link’s impact is easy to see. The individuals transformed by the opportunity to pursue an education while in prison have touched their families and communities in astounding ways. At Stand Together, we are energized by programs like Hudson Link that are committed to helping others improve their lives and create long-term value for society.