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College behind bars pays off

Universities like Cornell that help inmates get degrees are saving society a bundle. So say President David Skorton and Professor Glenn Altschuler in their Forbes blog today, citing the success of The Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP).

CPEP  brings volunteer Cornell faculty and graduate students to teach a college-level liberal arts curriculum, in subjects ranging from genetics to poetry, to 100 men per year at Auburn Correctional Facility and Cayuga Correctional Facility. CPEP had its first graduation last June.

“In New York State, 40 percent of all inmates who are released will wind up back in prison within three years,” Skorton and Altschuler write. “An inmate’s ability to make it on the outside depends on whether he is returning to a stable family, whether he has mental health or substance abuse issues and on his education and employment-related skills.”

Nationwide, they write, “more than 650,000 people were released from state prisons in 2010. By cutting the reincarceration rate in half, $2.7 billion per year could be saved. Former inmates with jobs also have less need for public assistance and contribute to society, in the form of taxes and purchasing power.”

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