By Salvador Solorio
Cornell University instructors are now teaching neuroscience at New York’s maximum-security Auburn Correctional Facility. Prisoners are enrolled in Cornell Prison Education Project (CPEP), and those that graduate will receive an associate’s degree from Cayuga Community College reported Atlantic Magazine.
Students attending the introductory neuroscience class are not seasoned scholars; they are convicted felons, many of whom have never taken a biology class at any level.
The biggest difference between classes at Cornell and Auburn is how material is approached and the learning environment. Auburn students are not distracted; they do not have phones or laptops.
Auburn prisoner-students are older, more diverse and come to the class with a wealth of real-world experience. Cornell students may take the neuroscience class as a medical school prerequisite, Auburn student Bedi (Babi) said, “I come here because I’m thirsty. I want to learn.”
The neuroscience class will help students gain insights to understanding the world around them and provides an opportunity to learn about the mentally ill inmates living among them.
Bob Scott, the director of CPEP stated, “Students in prison can’t assume opportunities will come, so the curriculum has to be immediately relevant and help the students understand the world they see around them.”
Studying neuroscience helps prisoners develop a deep understanding of their own lives. Auburn student O’Malley said neuroscience “enables you to live a more thoughtful existence— being confined physically, but free mentally.”
Benefits of prisoners receiving a free, high-quality education are many. Recidivism is reduced. In New York, 40 percent of prisoners released will be re-incarcerated. CPEP students have a 7 percent re-incarceration rate. This means the program saves taxpayers money: for every dollar invested in prison education, between four and five dollars is saved in re-incarceration costs in the first three years post-release.
Another benefit is the fostering of a noble view of oneself. College student Bethea stated his education has “encouraged me to want to contribute to society in a beneficial way, to share, be creative, and come up with positive ideas and positive directions.”