NYS Exposed: State invests in college for prisoners

September 08, 2017 09:48 AM

It's a controversial program that allows criminals serving time in state prisons to get a college degree and it got a boost this week with the help of some state funding.

The state is investing $7.3 million into the program from settlement money secured by the Manhattan District Attorney. Despite not being tax dollars, many still don't like the idea of a free college degree for criminals.


"Really? We're worried about funneling money to inmates that have broken the law?" asks Brian Kolb, Assembly Minority Leader.

State Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb has been a vocal opponent of using state resources to help criminals earn a college education.

"If this is a program they want to experiment with, there's plenty of resources that can come out from the private sector rather than money that should be directed to public-affiliated causes that we have in the state," says Kolb.

That's how the program has operated in the past: Private funding not state resources. But the new investment from the state will expand services at 17 state prisons, helping 2,500 more prisoners.

"It's not only transformative for the person that gets the degree, but also for their family," says Dr. Timothy McCorry, associate professor at Medaille College.

Medaille College, which has a Rochester campus, was one of seven colleges that will be able to expand as a result of this grant money. They work with women at the Albion Correctional Facility on earning a liberal arts associate degree.

"There are about 1,200 people there," says Dr. McCorry. "Only about 25 people are in a college class, so we're going to be able to expand that to 40. But that's still not enough and we still need more educational programs to help reduce the recidivism rate."

"The rates of re-offending are cut in half as individuals have more education," agrees Dr. Ken Macur, president of Medaille College.

Medaille College points to a study by the Rand Corporation which found prisoners that take an education program while in prison are 43 percent less likely to return to prison once released. A number that gets even higher for those that earn a college degree. For President Macur, those statistics have an economic benefit for all taxpayers.

"For the taxpayers in the state of New York, the economic advantage is that it cost about $60,000 per year, per resident within the facilities and so we're taking about $2,000 per offender and turning that into a $60,000 gain for the taxpayers when these individuals don't re-offend," says Dr. Macur.

"I'm all for rehabilitation, I just think this is the wrong optics to send to the average New Yorker in the state," says Kolb.

In our area, Auburn and Cayuga Correctional will also benefit from the funding. Those prisoners can earn their college degree from Ivy League Cornell University.


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