College and Community Fellowship (CCF), a non-profit organization established in 2000, is a resource for formerly incarcerated women in New York City that has helped hundreds of formerly incarcerated women transition back to life in the community.
For the past eleven years, CCF has been helping women make successful transitions from prison to life in the community using strategies that focus on higher education, community building, leadership development, and artistic expression. CCF promotes higher education and focuses on long term stability as a solution to recidivism and persistent poverty.
CCF’s primary objective is to provide educational support services that assist formerly incarcerated women in earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from accredited universities or colleges in the New York metropolitan area.
CCF provides two levels of assistance:
To see video testimonials of CCF clients, visit one of the following links:
For a video introduction to the program, visit one of the following:
Voice of America
- All women who participate in the program have access to numerous services to provide them with the basic skills and knowledge they need to become self-sufficient and financially secure. They receive counseling, financial literacy education, peer support services, tutoring and mentoring services, and access to extracurricular activities (e.g., theatre, writing group). Women attend community meetings on a monthly basis where they may discuss common issues related to their education, provide support and advice, and receive life skills training.
- Women who have earned at least 12 college credits and maintained a GPA of 2.5 or higher are eligible to become “fellows” of the program. Fellows have demonstrated a commitment to achieving a college degree and receive an annual financial stipend of $1200.
Some of the results of the program to date include:
- CCF students have earned a total of 191 college and graduate degrees: 35 Associate, 105 Bachelor, 50 Master and 1 Doctorate degrees. In June 2012, at least 30 more students will earn their college degrees.
- Approximately 55% of fellows work full time while earning their degrees in the program.
- 80% of CCF students complete their degree within three years of becoming CCF Fellows.
- 92% of fellows report post-graduation increased earnings and 64% of fellows pursue additional degrees.
- CCF reports that less than 2% of its clients have recidivated (i.e., received a new charge or returned to prison) in the past 10 years.
A driving factor behind CCF’s success is that it does more than simply assist women to take college courses. The program offers a comprehensive set of services to help build women’s life skills, enhance their self-esteem, and provide them with a supportive, pro-social community. Furthermore, the program has built extensive partnerships with other service organizations and offers a robust referral service to its clients. During intake, CCF program staff asks each woman about her various needs (e.g., employment, housing, foster care, reunifying with children) in addition to her educational goals. Staff then make appointments for their clients and follow-up to ensure they are receiving the necessary services.
For more information about CCF and the services they provide visit http://www.collegeandcommunity.org/1310416.html or contact Leslie Campbell, Recruitment-Intake and Retention Coordinator at:
College & Community Fellowship
475 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10115
An Interview with Vivian Nixon, Executive Director of College and Community Fellowship
Q What inspired you to join College and Community Fellowship (CCF)?
A I came to the organization one year after it was founded. I came as a client after spending three and a half years in prison. Unlike many women I met in prison, I was lucky as a child to have access to a great education until high school. While in prison, I began to tutor and teach GED classes. When someone gave me the flyer about CCF, it gave me hope that I could one day undue the shame that I experienced when I was younger: flunking out of college. CCF changed my life from a spiral of addiction, low self-esteem, and shame. The act of helping me get my degree reversed all of that. I want every woman involved in the criminal justice system to recapture the dreams she had when she was young.
Q Why does CCF focus on higher education, rather than employment, as a means of securing economic security for women?
A In this economy there are a growing number of jobs that require an education. In order to get a job, women need to have a certain level of education to be considered. For women coming out of prison, skills they once had may no longer be relevant.
Q What did you hope that CCF would accomplish?
A The purpose of the program is to give women the tools they need to better market themselves and to help them feel a sense of self-accomplishment. The vision for CCF is to provide a community where women can become self-supported and achieve economic security.
Q Can you tell me more about CCF’s recruitment and intake process?
A Up until 2009, there was no formal recruitment process because word of mouth alone was causing program to grow faster than we could keep up with. In 2009, we received a catalytic grant from the Robin Hood Foundation to build the capacity of the program. With this grant, we were able to build a formal recruitment process.
- Currently, this process includes visiting women in facilities who are within 90 days of their release date and who are currently enrolled in higher education classes. Where possible, CCF works with the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to gather information on releasing women and set up an intake appointment with them prior to their release from prison.
- There are no eligibility requirements to participate in the program, other than a woman having criminal justice involvement and some interest in going to college. Women who are returning from prison to live in the New York City area, or women under criminal justice supervision in the community, are able to enroll in the CCF program.
Q Can you tell me more about a couple of the programs run by CCF?
A Two programs run by CCF are particularly geared toward giving women a “voice”:
- Theatre for Social Change: Each year a group of women meet regularly to select a theme related to criminal justice and work with a coordinator to develop a play, which is performed a number of times throughout the year (e.g., at the annual graduation ceremony, Rikers Island, local fundraising events).
- Creative Writing Collective: A group of about a dozen women meet regularly to write about topics that are important to them. For instance, women may write about their life experiences, the community they are building, where they are in the educational process, and public policies that have impacted them.
Q How does CCF provide assistance in removing legal barriers to employment?
A Each year, CCF conducts a two-hour workshop where legal experts explain the legal barriers facing women and their rights. They also walk women through the process of securing Certificates of Relief and Good Conduct to assist them in gaining employment.
Q We often hear from formerly incarcerated women that the experience of reentry can be overwhelming (e.g., with competing demands of reuniting with children, finding housing, securing a job, meeting criminal justice obligations). Do your clients express similar concerns and how has CCF motivated them to pursue education during this difficult time?
A We are an organization that understands these challenges. From the very beginning we let the women know that we understand what they are going through and therefore our demands are minimal. Their only requirements are to attend a monthly community meeting and participate in one academic counseling session per semester. All other correspondence occurs by phone and email.
Q What are some of the most compelling lessons you have learned from your clients?
A The women I work with are very resilient. All it requires is tapping into or connecting with that something inside of each woman that helps her have hope for the future. For many in our program, this includes reaching graduation day and making their families proud.
Q What do you see happening in the field of criminal justice as it relates to women or gender-informed practices in the next few years? What progress still needs to be made?
A One of the greatest challenges facing the field is the lack of focus on women involved in criminal justice systems given that they are a small percentage of the overall population. I hope we see more commitment and resources to providing gender-responsive programs in the future. I hope that all organizations that provide services to women can embrace the same principles.
Q What advice do you have for professionals working in the criminal justice field who want to achieve better outcomes with justice-involved women?
A When working with women, respect them and realize that you can learn a lot from them. Also, women do not respond to programs and techniques that shame, embarrass, or punish. Instead the focus should be on building their self-esteem and drawing on their resiliency.
Q Are there publications or resources by your organization about which others should be aware?
To hear CCF described by the women it serves, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpZT6klqQug&feature=related
The CCF 2010 Annual Report can be found at: http://www.collegeandcommunity.org/files/46269149.pdf
CCF is leading an effort to remove barriers to higher education facing individuals involved in the criminal justice system. To read more about the Education From the Inside Out Coalition, visit:
http://www.eiocoalition.org/# or watch the video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bWo53qAjA8