David Norman, a formerly incarcerated individual, graduates from Columbia University at age 67

The Mailman School of Public Health’s David Norman graduated this spring from Columbia’s School of General Studies with a degree in Philosophy. David was not only the oldest graduate to receive a bachelor’s degree in the Class of 2016 (he is 67), he was a student who had defied the odds as a formerly incarcerated person who did not return to prison after his release in 2001. This is a major accomplishment as four out of 10 people who are released from prison wind up back “inside” within three years according to a recent Vera Institute of Justice blog on the effectiveness of education for those who are incarcerated.

 A major goal for those promoting the wellbeing of people who have been incarcerated is in finding ways to reduce recidivism. The Vera Institute recently reviewed a series of studies conducted by the Rand Corporation on correctional education between 1980 and 2011 and found that inmates who engaged in educational programs were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years of release than those who did not participate. They also found that inmates who got involved in postsecondary education programs reduced their risk of returning to prison by 16 percentage points compared to those who did not participate. The good news is that not only are released inmates less likely to return to prison, they are also much more likely to find jobs.

David’s journey is a great example of the impact of education on people who have been incarcerated—providing awareness of what they have to offer to society and access to new skills and opportunities. While David was not involved in educational programs within prison, he found ways to learn and grow through volunteering as a counselor for what is now called the transitional services program. This program provides tools to inmates to help them get through the first 90 days after being released, when recidivism rates are higher. He excelled at this job and was promoted to a senior position. Upon his release, he found a job at Mount Vernon Hospital as an educator and outreach worker. By 2003 he was hired as a Research Assistant and Interviewer for Mailman’s Community Health Advisory and Information Network (CHAIN), a longitudinal study of people living with HIV in New York City. He began working on his BA at Columbia in 2006 and is currently a Research Assistant at Mailman and a volunteer with the Coming Home Program at Riverside church, where he provides support to people recently released from prison on re-integrating into the community.

To hear and read more about David’s journey in a recent NPR interview click here and for a CNN interview click here.

The Mailman School of Public Health’s Department of Sociomedical Sciences collaborates with the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) to promote postsecondary education for incarcerated people. BPI is actively supported by several Mailman School of Public Health Faculty including Dr. Robert Fullilove and Dr. Kim Hopper.