Newswise — New York University has received a $1 million, three-year grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support its Prison Education Program (PEP), an initiative that brings a college education to incarcerated individuals at New York’s Wallkill Correctional Facility. 

“In just a few years, NYU’s Prison Education Program has demonstrated that engagement in the classroom can create opportunities for successful new pathways after incarceration,” explains Nikhil Singh, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis and founding faculty director of the Prison Education Program. 

“We are grateful for the generous support from the Mellon Foundation—its backing will allow the program to not only continue to fulfill its educational mission, but also to expand its promise,” he adds. 

Since the inception of the Prison Education Program (PEP) in 2015, NYU has offered 42 courses at Wallkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in New York State’s Ulster County, with 12-18 classes offered annually. Thirty-one faculty have taught courses.

In October, the program graduated its first students, with five students earning an associate of arts degree from NYU in Liberal Studies. 

So far, 112 students have taken for-credit academic classes while 350 men have participated in NYU-sponsored programming at the prison, including end-of-semester student events, meditation classes, and writing workshops.

Led by faculty and deans in NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, PEP initially sought funding from the Ford Foundation, which supported the program with a $500,000 grant in 2015. Last year, it received more than $700,000 in additional funding from Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Criminal Justice Investment Initiative, which was established by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.

Under the program, once released from prison, students enrolled in NYU PEP may seek to continue their college education at NYU or transfer credits to another institution. Currently, 63 students have been released on parole and six students are pursuing bachelor’s degrees at NYU in the College of Arts and Science and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. NYU PEP also provides post-release educational and employment counseling, community support for families, and other services to address human rights, housing, and employment issues.

With support from the Mellon grant, PEP will: increase the number of students participating in the program; expand the scope of opportunities offered to them while in prison; enhance its post-release programming for former students; and broaden PEP’s impact through high-level public and scholarly programming. 

NYU PEP is coordinated with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and overseen by a steering committee composed of faculty from several NYU Schools: the College of Arts and Science, the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, the Silver School of Social Work, the Stern School of Business, and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. 

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The Mellon Foundation