Governor Andrew Cuomo Plans College Education for Prison Inmates

-->By Gloria Dulan-Wilson 

I'm sure those who gathered at the Wilborn Temple in Albany, NY for the 43rd Annual Black and Puerto Rican Caucus' day of worship, were prepared for the usual politically correct speeches from the elected officials who routinely show up in a show of solidarity with 48 State legislators and various other elected officials and community leaders from across New York State.

It is perhaps the largest gathering the church has, with people jockeying for favored positions to be seen or to be next those who are sought.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Imagine their surprise when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his plan to provide free college education to prison inmates – a major point of departure from the routine “everything's fine” speech, wouldn't you say?

The fact that there is still controversy about this concept, with many falling on one or the other side of the line, attests to how off guard many were caught.

I, for one, applaud the Governor's bold move!

It takes the argument of incarceration, prison, industrial, military complex, and recidivism out of the game. It puts it now where it should be – prisons were not just designed for incarceration, but for rehabilitation. Inmates were supposed to come out contrite, better than when they went in. However, not only has this not been the case, when there were options for obtaining higher education while suffering through incarceration, George Pataki, the only other worse thing to happen to New York than Bloomie and Giuliani, completely cut all educational programs. Under the guise of “budgetary considerations,” which really meant he shifted the funds to his construction cronies – he deliberately did more harm than good. Chalk that one up to the rest of his sabotage of New York – the end of affordable housing, the end of viable educational programs, etc.

Governor Cuomo has taken this issue to a whole nuther level – and anyone who has a brother, sister, son, daughter, cousin, neighbor, whatever, who is either incarcerated or has been incarcerated, should be lining up to back him in this endeavor.

Of course we know the repuglycons aren't going to like it – but then, what's new and different. If it's the right thing to do (and I don't mean right wing either), they will definitely be against it. So, with that said, totally expected response to the negative from them, there should be no arguments whatsoever. They feel the state shouldn’t use taxpayer's money on the program at a time when aid to education and tuition-assistance efforts are limited. In 2011 the state approved a five-year plan that allowed State University of New York (SUNY) schools to raise tuition $300 a year.

Comparatively speaking $5,000 year vs. $60,000 a year, should be convincing enough. In fact, the obtaining of an education shouldn't even be optional – it should be mandatory. Whether it's a college education, a trade, a certification in a specific program, it will not only set that person on a better footing once he or she is released, it will give New York the highest educated level of constituents ever. By investing in education, Cuomo said the initiative would save the state money in the long run if it is successful because it would keep people out of prison and fewer tax dollars would be spent maintaining a smaller number of inmates.

The fact that currently the state’s inmate population is 49 percent African-American, 24 percent Hispanic and 24 percent white, should be more than enough reason for Caucus members to stand with the Governor in making sure things go smoothly with this new legislation.

Of course, concomitant with that will be the necessity for job development, entrepreneurial business training and management. This may be the incentive to step up the return of jobs that have been shipped overseas, as the intelligent workforce returns to New York via this bold plan. All the things that the activists have been calling for all these years, now being provided for with a simple paradigm shift.

Ending the stories of being deprived, being from the wrong neighborhood, being neglected, rejected, dejected would be great wouldn't it? To go from that to accepted and respected. I'm sure that Dr. Divine Pryor, who has been advocating for college education for formerly incarcerated individuals is pleased to find that his concepts are being adopted and adhered to by the governor.

The state plans to issue a Request for Proposal starting March 3.

Interesting, how the meanstream media seemed to completely overlook the fact that this announcement was first made to the Black and Puerto Rican Legislative Caucus, isn't it? Oh, well – it is what it is, isn't it?

In the interim, while others are pondering and reacting, it has been learned that the Governor has already been experimenting with the program in 22 of the 58 prisons throughout the state, with a plan to expand it to 10 more within the next few months. Apparently he has already been able to measure the merits of the concept, and colleges would apply to participate next month. He is planning to include the proposal in his amended budget plan this week.

Per Cuomo, “Giving men and women in prison the opportunity to earn a college degree costs our state less and benefits our society more. Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results. Someone who leaves prison with a college degree has a real shot at a second lease on life because their education gives them the opportunity to get a job and avoid falling back into a cycle of crime. You want to save money? Get the inmate educational skills; the recidivism rate goes down to 4 percent. ”

New York's recidivism rate is a whopping 40% !! compared to a national rate of 43%, according to DC'S Pew Center on the States. 

The Bard Prison Initiative in Dutchess County is among nonprofit groups that partner with colleges and prisons to provide college classes. It says the recidivism rate is only  4 % in the program.

According to Cuomo taxpayers should support the plan: “A person who is paying to put their kid through college, they understand how expensive college is and then they have to pay these state taxes on top of it,” Cuomo said. “What they are really saying is I can’t pay all these bills. And the taxes are driving me crazy.” This implies that taxes would be lowered as a result of this program, something that should make many New Yorkers happy.

Of course, in addition the the repuglycons, other naysayers include the proponents of the “Dream Act” who see this as obviating any opportunity for there being a bill passed for those immigrants who are living and working in New York and seek financial assistance to attend college as well.

The state has other programs, including Dutchess and Westchester counties, that provide prisoners with an education, but do not receive any government funding. Cornell University, in partnership with Cayuga Community College, provides a free college education for inmates in Auburn and Cayuga state prisons using grants. 

While many are complaining that the educational system in New York could use a financial boost, they're not doing the math. When you consider that incarceration is $60.000 per year, compared to $5,000 per year for a college education, it actually boils down, mathematically to the fact that the savings would then provide education for 11 other college students – the funds saved from incarcerating and warehousing human beings, can be transferred via scholarships and financial aid to those students they are saying are in need. And believe me, as a parent who put three through college the hard way, under the Bush Pataki regime, where you got no love and much less aid, I totally understand where they're coming from. 

But, it doesn't have to be either/or or neither/nor – it can be both and. Of course, selfishness having been the hallmark of the legislators for such a long time, I'm sure that thought never occurred to them. Rather than making it work for everyone, they'd rather stand on the necks of those who, for once, have a shot at a decent life, under the guise that someone else just might be deprived. 


Thus far, the Governor has managed to balance the budget, cut the fat, get the job done, with little to no bleeding. However, there are always going to be those who look to poke holes in a good concept, no matter how positive it is.

I for one stand with the Governor in this issue and think the sooner the program is implemented statewide, the better. 

Kudos to Governor Andrew Cuomo for this concept. Looking forward to many other states buying a clue as well. It takes New York to lead the way.

Stay Blessed &
Gloria Dulan-Wilson


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