By Janelle Clausen
Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed reinstating taxpayer funded college classes for state prisoners. He said that the benefits outweigh the additional cost of $5,000 per prisoner to provide free education. It will reduce their chances of returning to prison by half, he argued, and create productive individuals.
Meanwhile, the State Universities of New York saw $2 billion of state assistance slashed during the recession. The state also passed NYSUNY 2020, which promises to steadily raise tuition for SUNY students.
Yes, another $5,000 per year is a fraction of the current cost of $60,000-twice the national average- per prisoner each year and the chance to live normally is priceless. If New York had not slashed state subsidies for higher education in favor of spending over $3 billion on prisons alone, I would agree with his logic- so long as it’s limited to non-violent offenders. They have a better chance at rehabilitation.
But many are victims of a system that should not have been so terrible to begin with, as statistics from the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision show. Nearly half of the prisoners are from the New York City area, where poverty continues growing and stop and frisk policies disproportionately targeted African Americans and Latinos. Meanwhile, half of the prison population is African American and another quarter Hispanic. Interesting correlation. Also, take into consideration that thousands of prisoners are there for non-violent drug offenses. This profiling is disgusting.
That shouldn’t prevent investment into schools filled with law-abiding students. The average student goes over $26,000 into debt (excluding compounded interest) and nearly two-thirds of us across the country have that burden. The numbers aren’t as high for SUNY students, but that shouldn’t be an excuse to let them get there.
Stony Brook University is considered cheap with its nearly $6,000 annual tuition. But that doesn’t take into account the overpriced meal plans, $7,268 to dorm, personal expenses, or transportation costs. Since 1980, wages barely grew, but college costs across the country outpaced inflation and skyrocketed 600%.
Perhaps cutting on drug arrests could alleviate prison costs and maybe that money could go towards education. It would be easier and fairer to fund public education for the impoverished before locking them up. Governor Cuomo should consider improving conditions for the law-abiding and needy before addressing educational reform in prisons.
It’s a better looking policy that taxpayers might actually embrace.