Disappearance of the "invisible students": The programs and people of higher education in New York State prisons

Rosemarie Murray, Fordham University


This study investigated inmate higher education programs (IHEP) in New York State prisons from the perspective of various participants in order to: (a) explore the mission and accomplishments of higher education in the rehabilitation of inmates; (b) identify the economic, informational, philosophical, political, and social factors that resulted in the loss of government funding which lead to the demise of the programs; and (c) examine possible alternatives to on-site faculty instruction. Several quantitative studies had reported reduced recidivism as a result of inmate participation in college prison programs. No published history or qualitative research on the inmate programs had been conducted in New York State from the initiation of the programs in the early 1970s to its virtual demise in 1995. Data collection for this study included: a survey, interviews, field study, and document examination. Refusal of the New York State Department of Correctional Services to grant permission for research to be conducted is acknowledged as a limitation and as an indication of the political context and implications of this study. This research resulted in several major findings. Environmental turbulence and the influence of innovation advocates in the State Education Department, in prisons, and in colleges at a time when funding became available to minority groups in the early 1970s resulted in the initiation of IHEP. Twenty-five colleges ultimately became involved, and most reaped substantial monetary rewards through their participation. Program directors, participating faculty, and observers reported the "success" of student/inmates; however, no "hard data" were collected, and a code of silence was maintained by the colleges during the tenure of the programs for fear of reprisals from legislators and citizens, particularly in the form of denial of funding. Hence, student/inmates remained "invisible." According to informants to this research, the loss of federal funding in 1994 and New York State grants in 1995 was principally due to a change in the political climate as a result of economic constraints and emotional reactions not informed by data about the effectiveness of the programs in stemming recidivism. While distance learning and student/inmate direct payment are being utilized in a least one state, Utah, informants indicated that the return of IHEP in New York is not likely in the foreseeable future.

Subject Area

Higher education|School administration|Adult education|Continuing education|Criminology|Public administration

Recommended Citation

Murray, Rosemarie, "Disappearance of the "invisible students": The programs and people of higher education in New York State prisons" (1997). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9729606.