Should taxpayers foot the bill for an inmate's college education?

Updated: 03/22/2014 7:39 PM
Created: 03/22/2014 7:35 PM WHEC.com
By: Rachel Spotts

It has been 20 years since New York State provided a college education for prison inmates, but the governor is pushing a proposal that could make it a reality once again.

Governor Cuomo says it would save taxpayer dollars in the long run and wants to make it happen in at least 10 prisons.

News10NBC spoke with people who say the plan isn't fair to taxpayers. But some say a college degree is the best way to keep inmates out of prison after they're released.

It's a bold plan by Governor Cuomo and it's sparking quite the debate. An event at Monroe Community College in downtown Rochester highlighted the issue. Craig Johnson was one of the speakers. He works at the Monroe Correctional Facility and says he supports the plan.

“At least some college courses have clearly been identified as factors in reducing recidivism. When we do that people have something to come out to, something that will get them a job or at least increase their chances of getting a job and that's pretty critical in re-entry,” said Johnson.

And he's not the only one in favor.

Jennifer House Director Dellenna Harper says, “We’re all human beings and I think an education would enhance the quality of anybody's life and make them productive members of society, period, point blank, whatever they've done in the past.”

But State Assemblyman Brian Kolb is firing back and says he the governor's plan isn't fair to those already struggling to pay for college.

“Working men and women in this state with their families, they're taking on extra jobs, second jobs, third jobs, students are taking on a tremendous amount of debt for student loans. If we're going to help anybody, it's going to be those law-abiding citizens that need our help first and foremost. Not inmates that are in prison,” said Kolb.

One point of controversy is the cost for something like this. Governor Cuomo says taxpayers spend sixty-thousand dollars a year to house a prisoner and he says it would cost $5,000 a year to get that same prisoner a college degree.

Those in favor say it's an investment that will pay off in the long run.

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