CI History & Mission


CI was founded in 2002 by pioneering prison educator Benay Rubenstein with one goal: To create pathways to college for men and women in New York City with criminal histories and a high school diploma or equivalent. In the face of the disappointing loss of the federal Pell and New York State TAP grants for prisoners in 1994, CI has sought to create life-changing college opportunities while building and supportive communities of individuals invested in their own success.

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CI spent its first four years housed by Episcopal Social Services under the leadership of Executive Director Stephen Chinlund, former chair of the New York State Commission of Corrections, before moving, in 2006, to offices within CUNY, giving us direct access to the vast resources of the largest public university system in the nation. Since then, CI has expanded its staff, offices, partnerships, and the number of people it serves:

  • In 2007, CI became an Incubator Project of the Fund for the City of New York and a member of the CUNY-wide Black Male Initiative, a program designed to increase and support the inclusion and educational success of students from groups that are severely underrepresented in higher education.
  • In 2008, CI opened programming offices at The Fortune Society’s headquarters in Long Island City, Queens.
  • In 2009, Michael Carey, a founding volunteer and former Assistant Director with CI, took over as Executive Director, facilitating the design of our innovative peer mentoring program.
  • In 2010, CI co-convened the CUNY Reentry Task Force, dedicated to building a wider constituency throughout the University and beyond for CUNY-affiliated higher education reentry programs and youth development programs serving court-involved youth. This same year, CI became a founding member of the New York City Reentry Education Network, a growing coalition of community-based organizations, government agencies, and institutions of higher education who have made a collective commitment to changing the landscape of education in criminal justice and reentry.
  • In 2015, CI merged with the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, becoming a PRI Educational Initiative with access to the rich resources of the College and the like-minded focus of scholars and professionals dedicated to advocating for the rights of the justice involved and spurring innovation in the field of reentry.

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CI’s mission is to create pathways from criminal justice involvement to college and beyond and to establish and support communities invested in their own success. Our work reflects our deep passion and strategic commitment to empowering men and women involved in the criminal justice system to become stabilizing forces in their communities, advocates for change, role models, and engaged citizens working for a safer New York City.

Our Core Beliefs:

  • Education is a fundamental right, regardless of an individual’s background or history.
  • Education offers the framework essential to personal and societal transformation as well as the means to a sustainable and fulfilling life.
  • Each student owns their education.