POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam and St. Lawrence University are among 67 colleges nationwide selected last month to participate in the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative.
Created by the U.S. Department of Education in 2016, the Second Chance Pell ESI distributes federal Pell grants to fund education programs for those incarcerated in state and federal prisons. With the additional 67 institutions asked to sign on this year, a total of 130 colleges, representing 42 states and the District of Columbia, are now eligible to implement prison education programs, involving credit-bearing and non-credit courses and a degree pathway.
“The St. Lawrence community’s shared desire to contribute to a more equitable society is among the primary reasons we wanted to partner with SUNY Potsdam on this important work,” SLU President William L. Fox said. “This program will provide numerous benefits to all students thanks to the commitment of the St. Lawrence faculty involved with SUNY Potsdam.”
SUNY Potsdam President Kristin G. Esterberg offered a similar reflection, saying the university is “well prepared” to assist Second Chance Pell students with education and career goals given the institution has a “successful track record” serving first-generation students and underrepresented groups.
Through the initiative, SUNY Potsdam will offer a bachelor of arts in sociology and a minor in human services to students at Riverview Correctional Facility, 1110 Tibbits Drive, Ogdensburg.
Opened in 1988, Riverview is one of two state prisons in Ogdensburg, both of which are medium-security facilities for men offering various rehabilitation programs, including alcohol and substance abuse treatment, trauma programs, counseling services and educational and vocational training.
In concert with community agencies in St. Lawrence County, Riverview’s Second Chance Pell program will also offer students certification opportunities, including peer recovery coach credentials and mental health first aid certifications, “all designed to effectively position participants for employment after release from prison, with a clear pathway to graduate within four years,” according to SUNY Potsdam officials.
SUNY Potsdam anticipates enrolling up to 34 students later this year, and SLU will serve as a junior partner, providing faculty and resources for one course each semester.
SLU faculty have already been regularly teaching courses every semester at Riverview for the past four years, and SUNY Potsdam has been offering three introductory-level college courses at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility, 17 Commerce Lane, Canton, for the last two years. And in a collaborative effort, the two universities have established the Prison Education through College Outreach group.
SUNY Potsdam Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Rivka Rocchio created the 10-week Playwriting Across Prison Walls workshop for Riverview inmates, and will now be able to provide credit-bearing opportunities through the Second Chance Pell ESI. Both SUNY Potsdam and SLU have also facilitated peer support groups, stress and anxiety workshops and book clubs at the county jail.
As the Riverview program’s director, SUNY Potsdam Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice Nancy Lewis said the sociology major “will provide a productive pathway forward as the students rebuild their lives.”
“Many people I work with in custody and following release identify careers helping others as pathways to productive lives, allowing them to give back to their families and communities,” she said. “The Department of Labor identifies community development, social services and substance abuse treatment as areas of above average job growth.”
The Vera Institute of Justice, an independent nonprofit founded in 1961 as a justice system research and policy organization, has partnered with the Second Chance Pell ESI to provide technical assistance to participating schools and corrections facilities.
In New York, several other colleges were invited to participate in the initiative, including Albany Technical College, Columbia Greene Community College, CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College and SUNY Adirondack Community College.