The U.S. Department of Education announced last week that SUNY Potsdam has been included in the expansion of the Second Chance Pell Experimental Sites Initiative to provide need-based Pell grants to people in state and federal prisons.
SUNY Potsdam will now be able to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree program in sociology, including a minor in human services, to Pell-eligible students at Riverview Correctional Facility in Ogdensburg.
Through partnering with community agencies in St. Lawrence County, the program will include stackable credentials, such as peer recovery coach 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. St. Lawrence University, Canton, will serve as the junior partner for the project, providing one course per semester. SUNY Potsdam plans to enroll up to 34 students in the initiative’s first year.
The Second Chance Pell program at Riverview builds on an existing collaborative relationship developed initially by St. Lawrence faculty who have taught courses there for the past four years, and by faculty and staff from both colleges who together built the Prison Education through College Outreach consortium. Seed funding for that consortium was provided by the Associated Colleges of the St. Lawrence Valley.
SUNY Potsdam and St. Lawrence have both actively engaged in offering both non-credit and credit-bearing opportunities at local correctional facilities. A cohort of eight St. Lawrence faculty members offer two credit-bearing courses per semester at Riverview, while SUNY Potsdam faculty have offered three introductory-level college courses for credit during the past two years at the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility in Canton.
St. Lawrence University faculty facilitate a book club and offer weekly stress and anxiety workshops at the county jail, while students visit weekly to play board games with confined individuals. SUNY Potsdam faculty and students developed a Seventh Step peer support group, mindfulness programs and a book club for women, as well as a weekly re-entry program at the county jail. Rivka Rocchio, an assistant professor of theatre and dance, has facilitated a drama club at Riverview since 2016, and created the Playwriting Across Prison Walls Festival, which brings 10-minute plays written by incarcerated individuals to the stage, as performed by undergraduates at SUNY Potsdam.