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Friday, October 31, 2014

Should our taxes fund college education for prisoners?

New York state is considering an initiative at 10 of its state prisons to give prisoners a college education.

The program would bring college professors into the prisons to teach in accredited programs that would offer both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees. The exact cost of the program is still unknown, but it would be state-funded.

The plan was announced as an effort to reduce recidivism rates in state penitentiaries. Right now, New York state’s recidivism rate stands at 40 percent — at a time when the state estimates that it spends approximately $60,000 per year for each person who is incarcerated. Instead of continuing to plan on that ever-increasing expense, why not pay the estimated $5,000 per year per inmate for a college education and turn him or her into someone who is far less likely to return to prison?

Programs like this already exist, and have been fairly successful. The Bard Prison Initiative, begun in 1999, is in effect at six prisons in the state. The program provides college education and a Bard College degree to incarcerated individuals. Inmates who graduate from the program have a recidivism rate of 4 percent.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the program. Many lawmakers, however, do not share his enthusiasm. State Sen. George Maziarz of Niagara County is leading the charge against using public money for prisoners.

Many young Americans face out-of-control costs for a college education, and are often forced into significant debt. Many of them are the children of hardworking middle-class people who want to ensure that their kids get a college education and are given a chance to succeed. To many New Yorkers, it doesn’t seem fair for a prisoner to just get a free ride while law-abiding citizens are forced to take out loans to pay for college.

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