New York: An Indian-American professor is at the helm of a unique initiative launched by the prestigious New York University (NYU) to bring college education to criminals imprisoned at a correctional facility here.
Nikhil Pal Singh is the faculty director of NYU's Prison Education Programme (PEP),?which is backed by a USD 500,000 grant from the Ford Foundation and offers credit-bearing, university courses that will enable students to earn an Associate of Arts (AA) degree from the university.
"By expanding access to a university education to incarcerated students, the NYU Prison Education Programme aims to help redress inequities that result from the fact that the United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world ? over two million? the great majority of whom are poor, African American, and Latino," said Singh, associate professor at NYU's Department of Social and Cultural Analysis.
The initiative has begun with individuals jailed at the Wallkill Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison in New York state's Ulster County.
Douglas Wood, programme officer at the Ford Foundation on Higher Education for Social Justice, said that supporting high quality, postsecondary education programmes in prisons is "vitally important and will contribute in many ways to renewing communities, strengthening families and breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty".
Starting in spring of 2015, 36 inmates will take one of two NYU classes taught at the Wallkill facility, with up to three additional courses offered during the summer of 2015.
Classes will be taught by NYU faculty and offer both intensive liberal arts study and introductory courses from NYU's professional schools.
Once released from prison, students enrolled in NYU PEP will have the option to either continue their college education at NYU or transfer credits to another institution.
The initiative will also include providing educational and employment counselling, community support for families, and other services such as legal assistance to address human rights, housing, and employment issues.
The programme is also working with a leading community -based organisation addressing post-prison release issues.
The leadership for this initiative arose from faculty and deans in NYU's College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and the Gallatin School of Individualized Study.
"NYU faculty and staff have worked for several years to develop this program driven by the belief that the university has a special obligation to provide educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals," said Gallatin's Dean Susanne Wofford.