Sean Pica, director of the Hudson Link for Higher Education, was hired in 2007, but recidivism rates for ex-convicts suggested he shouldn’t have job.

“It’s 68 percent of the men and women in this country that go to prison return to prison,” he said. “I’m not supposed to be here right now running a nonprofit. I’m supposed to be back in prison.”

Hudson Link offers two and four year college education programs to more than 640 incarcerated men and women in five prisons in New York. It also provides re-entry support once they leave prison. Pica, who helps develop relationships between the colleges and the prisons, was in the room when the program was founded.

In 1994, Pica was on the verge of earning his bachelor’s degree in 1994 when Congress eliminated Pell grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals. It was a set back, but he couldn’t be derailed.

However, with no federal funding, he sat down with a group of prisoners about conversations about how to create a nonprofit organization. In 1998, Hudson Link was established. The organization acted as a third-party facilitator that would coordinate with the Department of Corrections, raise the money to pay the colleges and select a college partner.

Today Pica is working on his third Master’s Degree. who is currently working on his MBA after earning masters in professional studies and another in social work. Hudson Link has awarded helped inmates earn more than 700 degrees five correctional facilities. Hudson Link’s graduates have astonishingly low recidivism rates. Less than 2% – compared to over 67% nationwide.

Pica says the program is proof that the transformative power of education is far more cost-effective than prison. Hudson Link raises every penny privately. To be eligible, an inmate is also not allowed to have any disciplinary infractions during the college program. Therefore, the program has a positive ripple effect on the prison’s population, Pica said.

Presently, the Hudson Link program is in five New York prisons – Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Greene Correctional Facility, Taconic Correctional Facility, Sullivan Correctional Facility, and Shawangunk – with a different college partnering at each. The classes that are offered at each are the same as the ones that are offered through the college. All classes are taken in person, with an adjunct professor. Computer labs allow the students to conduct research, write and print their papers for their professors.

For more information about the Hudson Link for Higher Education program, visit hudsonlink.org.

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