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Plan needs private funds

February 23, 2014
The Leader Herald

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to fund more college classes in prisons earned poor marks from several state senators - and the public - last week.

Any law-abiding resident paying off a student-loan bill - or their child's - understands why people are upset by the proposal.

However, the chief flaw in Cuomo's proposal is the idea taxpayers will fund the classes. Looking to non-profits or charitable organizations to fund the idea would probably make it palatable to many state residents.

College classes already are offered at 18 of the state's more than 50 prisons for limited enrollments and are almost entirely privately funded.

Cuomo's program would offer associate and bachelor's degree education at 10 prisons, one in each region of the state. Cuomo says it will reduce the likelihood of inmates returning to crime. He proposed spending about $5,000 a year for an inmate's education, noting it already costs about $60,000 to incarcerate each of the state's 54,000 inmates.

The governor's office said the state on March 3 will request bids from educational associations that provide college professors and classes in an accredited program.

It is still unclear if Cuomo will need the Legislature's approval to expand the program. Some lawmakers have expressed support for the program, while others have not.

We hope that rather than rush ahead with plans for the program, Cuomo will yield to considering other alternatives: chiefly, finding a way to expand the program without relying on more taxpayer dollars.

It's important to note that society can gain from prisoners bettering themselves and receiving an education.

Bard College's prison initiative at the Coxsackie, Eastern, Fishkill, Green Haven, Taconic and Woodbourne prisons in the Hudson Valley currently has 275 inmates enrolled. Those students' recidivism rate is 4 percent, compared with 40 percent for state inmates overall, the college said. Other studies have pointed to the same reality: more education reduces the chance a convict will go back to prison.

But the reality is that as college costs have risen, the state has done little of practical value to help most people pay for it.

We all like the idea of convicts becoming law-abiding citizens. But Cuomo should find another way to pay for the proposed program.

 
 

 

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