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Getting a College Education Behind Bars


April 8, 2013
by Carly Gerber

Did you know Cornell University offers a program for inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility and Cayuga Correctional Facility to receive college educations?

Did you know Cornell University offers a program for inmates at Auburn Correctional Facility and Cayuga Correctional Facility to receive college educations?

The Cornell Prison Education Program (CPEP) began from the ideas and actions of English professor Winthrop “Pete” Wetherbee who, without funding, began teaching in the Auburn prison in the mid-1990s. By 1999, CPEP was offering Cornell credit for completed courses and in 2008, Cornell and Cayuga Community College (CCC) made an agreement which has Cornell waive tuition and fees, CPEP supply instructors and pay for books, school supplies and administration and CCC endow associate degrees. Plus, the CPEP is relatively low in cost – $1,800 per student – and has numerous benefits: Prison education appears to increase the safety of the prisons because the men and women are staying occupied, learning and building self-esteem.

The programs have been getting a positive reaction because other inmates want to join. Retired Cornell professor Richard Polenberg taught a constitutional history course at Auburn Correctional Facility and had said, “These men are extraordinary” and “They are very, very well behaved in the classroom and they ask really good questions.” Government and American Studies professor Mary Katzenstein explains, “Ninety-five percent of men and women in prison are released to society. Do we want people returning who have learned only to hone tricks of the trade, or do we want people coming back to our neighborhoods who have had a chance to learn the kind of analytical skills and be exposed to the ethical values that a liberal arts education is able to impart?”

With the low cost and many benefits of the CPEP, I think all correctional facilities should have a program like it and more colleges should follow Cornell's lead. What are your thoughts about the CPEP?

Carly Gerber is majoring in journalism at Columbia College Chicago. She loves fashion and hopes to cover the topic for a Chicago-area magazine. In her free time, she focuses on her blog, loves making jewelry and spending time on Pinterest and Pose. She hopes to use this blog to guide and relate to its followers: college students like herself!

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