ALBANY, N.Y. (AP/WBEN) - Governor Andrew Cuomo is proposing to fund college classes in New York prisons, saying a college degree will reduce the likelihood an inmate will return to crime when released.
The program will offer associate and bachelor degree education at 10 prisons, one in each region of the state. According to Cuomo's office, New York currently spends $60,000 per year on each prisoner, and it will cost approximately $5,000 per year to educate an inmate. Cuomo didn't specify the cost of the overall program.
The state will issue a Request for Proposal from qualified educational associations in March. Since 2007, the state Department of Corrections has partnered with colleges including Cornell University and Bard to offer privately funded degree programs at 22 prisons. The new program will expand on that.
One local lawmaker opposed to it is State Senator Mark Grisanti. "I support rehabilitation and reduced recidivism, but not on the taxpayer's dime when so many individuals and families in New York are struggling to meet the ever-rising costs of higher education," Grisanti said in a statement.
State Senator George Maziarz said he was at a loss for words upon hearing the initiative. "What we could do is try to help law-abiding, decent individuals the opportunity to go to a college in the State of New York, before we worry about inmates," Maziarz said. Maziarz says that he has already fielded dozens of calls and his email is flooded with constituents who are against the idea.
But despite the criticism, could this initiative help Cuomo retain his office in November?
"I think it will help him where he's weakest in the Democratic base, which is the liberal side of the party," says Ken Lovett, New York Daily News Albany Bureau Chief. "He's had an uneasy relationship since 2002 when he tired to primary Democrat Carl McCall, who was trying to become the state's first black Governor. A lot of blacks and hispanics were really upset with that, and there's been a leeriness about him ever since. I think he's hoping an initiative like this will help smooth some of the ruffled feathers."
Grisanti meanwhile has launched a petition entitled "Say 'NO' to free college for prisoners." Grisanti says he would rather see the money spent on this program go back toward funds to the Tuition Assistance Program.