Expanding education opportunities in prisons a good idea

Print Friendly

From The Daily News Online:

Yes, there are people who, given choices, will always choose a life of crime. But there are also people who choose a life of crime because they feel they have no other options. College education for prison inmates can offer another choice and a second chance. New York State’s expansion of educational programming at 17 state prisons is a good idea.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. recently announced the awarding of $7.3 million to fund educational programming and re-entry services at 17 state prisons, including Albion Correctional Facility, over the next five years. Rather appropriately, the money comes from criminal forfeitures — large bank settlements received by the Manhattan district attorney — not from general state funds.

Under the program, Medaille College in Buffalo will use $400,000 of the grant money to extend and expand classes it offers women inmates in the Albion Correctional Facility. Currently, about 40 women are able to take college courses; the expansion will allow 80 women to take Medaille’s liberal studies program classes — writing, literature, math and technology, for example.

The Albion Correctional Facility has a capacity of about 1,250 inmates. The state tries to make sure every inmate has at least a high school education or GED before release. For those who have the intelligence and drive for higher education — the degree that could gain them entry into good jobs — access is limited. Inmates must have good high school or GED records and demonstrated good behavior during their incarceration to be considered for the few spots available. About 1,000 inmates statewide are currently enrolled in college-level courses.

Opportunities for inmates do not mean there is less opportunity for law-abiding students. New York State this year approved free college tuition for students from families with incomes of $100,000 or less. Overall, the state budget allocates $7.5 billion in aid for higher education. Compare that to the $7.3 million in bank settlement money slated for programs for eligible prison inmates that cut taxpayer costs in the long run. Study after study has shown that education cuts the recidivism rate. The cost of just housing and feeding an inmate is estimated at $60,000 a year.

Testifying before the Assembly Correctional and Mental Health Committees in 2012, Jack Beck of the Correctional Association of New York cited a study that found the cost to the state per crime prevented by offering education to incarcerated persons is about $1,600, while the cost per crime prevented by extending prison sentences is $2,800. He also noted evidence that college education enhances students’ sense of self, empowering them to give back to their communities.

Inmates will come out of prison with one education or another — either they will have succumbed to hopelessness and learned to be more expert criminals, or they will have found hope for a better future and learned the skills to support themselves without resorting to crime. It makes sense to prepare those inmates as much as possible to leave prison with the life tools that will enable them to stay out of prison in the future.