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Prisoners Get Federal College Money to Attend Hostos Under New Aid Program

By Eddie Small | July 13, 2016 2:39pm
 Hostos Community College has been selected to take part in Second Chance Pell, a pilot program that the school hopes will help it educate more than 300 prisoners.
Hostos Community College has been selected to take part in Second Chance Pell, a pilot program that the school hopes will help it educate more than 300 prisoners.
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Dan Johnson

SOUTH BRONX — Hostos Community College hopes to educate more than 300 prisoners by taking part in a pilot program that provides Pell grants to incarcerated students.

The program, known as Second Chance Pell, was launched by the U.S. Department of Education last summer, and Hostos was one of 67 schools selected to participate in it out of more than 200 that applied, according to Rep. Jose Serrano's office. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice and LaGuardia Community College were also selected to participate in the program.

“I am thrilled that the Obama Administration has selected Hostos Community College as one of the 67 pilot programs named in the President’s Second Chance Pell Pilot Program," Serrano said in a statement. "Individuals who have almost finished paying their debt to society and are on the verge of reentry should be given every opportunity to succeed."

The Second Chance Pell program should begin in the fall, and Hostos plans to start by working with 50 students before gradually scaling up to working with more than 300, according to Dean of Academic Affairs Felix Cardona.

The program will target students who are eligible for release within the next five years, and Cardona maintained that urban schools like Hostos had an obligation to help ensure that such inmates are ready to have a successful reentry.

"Many of these individuals will return to the city they are from: New York," he said, "and so if we’re going to be part of reintegrating them effectively, we know that the social science supports education, particularly higher education, as a core element in reducing recidivism and prison reentry."

A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation found that inmates who took part in correctional education programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison than inmates who did not.

Hostos already works with incarcerated students through a partnership with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice called the Prison to College Pipeline, which provides prisoners with academic coursework, reentry planning and workshops on how to be successful in college and life.

However, Cardona said that Second Chance Pell would allow them to work with more students and add more instructors.

Prisoners apply to take classes with Hostos, and their acceptance is based on factors such as good behavior and expressing a strong interest in participating. Course offerings include standard college subjects such as English, history and sociology.

"Our experience is that once those who are interested get involved, their enthusiasm sort of motivates others," Cardona said, "so it’s also good for their morale."

Hostos currently works with the Otisville prison upstate and plans to partner with the Queensboro Correctional Facility in the next academic year, according to Cardona.

He was optimistic that Second Chance Pell would be a successful program.

"It’s good policy. It’s good for reintegrating inmates, and it’s fiscally sound," he said, "so it should satisfy all the factions politically if those results continue."