College degrees for prisoners?

Created: 02/17/2014 5:25 PM WHEC.com
By: Berkeley Brean

Governor Cuomo says he has a plan for inmates in state prison to earn college credits and get a college degree. It would all be paid for by taxpayers.

Cuomo says it might be bold, even crazy, but he says it is the right thing to do. The governor says it costs taxpayers $60,000 a year to house one prisoner. He also says the cost to get that same prisoner a college degree is $5,000 a year.

The question is: Is this fair to families and students who struggle to pay for a college education?

Governor Cuomo says 40 percent of young minorities are unemployed in New York. One out of every three African American men ends up in prison at some point in their life. The governor says almost 50 percent of state inmates end up back in prison after they’ve been released.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “Now we call it the Department of Corrections.  That's what we call our prison system.  But you have to ask yourself are we really correcting anything?  And what are we accomplishing for all that money? Let's invest and rehabilitate people so they have a future.”

In his speech to the congregation, Governor Cuomo said educating prisoners is proven to reduce the chance they go back into prison, the recidivism rate. So his idea is to spend $5,000 to educate a prisoner so that you don't have to spend $60,000 to house them if they come back.

News10NBC went to the College at Brockport where students are paying for their college degree.

Hope Watson said, “I guess it's a little bit upsetting being that I have these thousands of dollars in loans but it's hard for them to get a job when they're released.”

Bana Hagos said, “When you spend most, when you spend a lot of time in prison that's a cost for something. I still think they deserve, as human beings, I still think they deserve an opportunity to go to school.”

Now Bard College, south of Albany, has been doing this in six prisons for 15 years. They have had 500 inmates educated, 250 awarded degrees. Their recidivism rate is four percent. The governor's plan is an extension of the Bard College plan.

How does the state plan to pay for this college education? The governor's office says it'll come out of the general fund. Income taxes and sales taxes help fund that. Republican Senator Joe Robach says if this happens he would want it to be funded by money confiscated by police after criminal investigations.

He says he'd rather see general fund money go to scholarships for students who aren't in prison. 

Click here to watch Gov. Cuomo's full speech on funding prison education

Senator Joe Robach's statement: "If a program like this were to be funded, I would strongly prefer that the funding come directly from the criminal or money seized during criminal activity instead of the General Fund.   General Fund dollars should continue to be used to fund important programs like, TAP and HEOP, which help keep the cost of attending a SUNY school reachable for hard working, law abiding residents."  

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