After being arrested for an unlawful altercation, Darnell Epps ’21 and his brother Darryl served 17-and-a-half years in prison. They had “little reason to be optimistic,” they told the Cornell Chronicle, until they enrolled in the Cornell Prison Education Program.
The program, which provides college courses to inmates at maximum and medium security prisons in upstate New York, aims to “counter a culture of punishment that predominates in the correctional system today,” said Robert Scott, executive director of the Cornell Prison Education Program.
In the program, students enroll in courses covering topics ranging from immunology and science fiction to the Supreme Court and algebra. Scott stated that the program, which has been running for several years, is also helping to launch computer labs.
“Imagine taking a Cornell class where you couldn’t even use an encyclopedia to look something up, let alone the internet,” Scott said. “This might seem basic but in prison people are still using typewriters and cassette tape players — Walkmans.”
Correctional education programs have been found to boost post-release employment and reduce recidivism, according to a 2013 study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Some students decide to continue higher education after their release; Epps now studies government in the College of Arts and Sciences.