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New Privately Funded College Courses for Inmates to be Implemented

A few months ago, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo proposed that college courses for inmates be provided by the government. He went on to say that this move would offer inmates a chance at restoration and rehabilitation, as opposed to decay and stagnation. He said that this would be a new step forward for America—currently the nation with the highest rate of incarceration per year. He also said that one of the biggest issues last year was that a lot of inmates are intelligent people who’d gone astray due to their environments: people who arguably deserve the kind of education that will develop their talents. The same goes, he says, for those whose crimes have landed them in prison for life: Cuomo said that the humane thing to do would be to ensure, at least, that should they desire it, they could do something productive while in prison. At the time, it seemed that a lot of people empathized with the governor’s cause.

Six weeks later, however, when the state budget was being approved, the proposed bill was met with a lot of questions and oppositions. These came particularly from the Senate—senators argued that it didn’t seem right to make law-abiding citizens pay for the education of inmates when they were struggling to pay for their own children’s educations.

Mr. Cuomo said that he understood this sentiment—and especially how it would look to the public or to people who hadn’t reviewed his full proposal—but that he didn’t agree with it; the potential to do wrong lies in every person but the power to correct that wrong and replace it with something for the better (as opposed to simply quarantining it) should like with a governing body.

The College Courses for Inmates proposal would cost $1 million in its first year and less afterwards—miniscule when the state’s budget per prison is around $2.8 million a year. Mr. Cuomo goes on to say that implementing his plan would be bettering the lives of everyone without necessarily costing extra for anyone: he proposed 10 majors which the inmates could choose from, there being classes a couple of times a week as incorporated into the inmates’ usual routine within the prison. Mr. Cuomo is a democrat and so it is hardly any surprise that the Republican members of the government have stood against him on this. The previous provision for publicly funded college courses given to inmates was revoked two decades ago by Governor George E. Pataki, who made prisoners ineligible for state funding. Former President Bill Clinton also signed a bill which made inmates ineligible for the Pell grant.

This bill has had some extraordinary backlash over the past few months: Governor Cuomo has been met with rallies and campaigns like Kids Before Cons and Hell No to Attica University. In the past few months, the governor has received threats of impeachment from a couple of English teachers and a reporter recently asked him for a message to Yoko Ono should Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon (who is imprisoned in Western New York) suddenly want a college degree. The governor did not respond to any of these comments except to say that he has decided it would be best if this course were privately funded by individuals whose thoughts and concerns were much more progressive than most politicians’.

Robert Gangi, former executive of the Correctional Association of New York, says that the public’s obsession with “vengeance” and “severe punishment” is primitive—along with claims that correctional facilities are soft on the criminals. Mr. Gangi says that prison is no joke and providing an education for these people would definitely make the world a better place; the absence of education in prisons isn’t helping anyone.

Oddly enough, in a survey taken last month by the Siena College found that most students (53%) were for the governor’s proposed bill. The problem seems to be that the other 47% are simply more outspoken. Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell says that Governor Cuomo’s proposition is fail-safe: it makes prisons, streets and ultimately, the nation a safer place. A lot of educators and Universities (whose names must be omitted here for the sake of discretion) have also gotten on board to help teach these classes and formulate curriculum that would best suit the inmates and the degrees they want to pursue.

Why, he asks, are the majority of America so opposed to progress? Mr. O’Donnell emphasizes that “correctional facilities” aren’t called correctional for nothing.

Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo decided to pull the bill out of the running, saying that there are other more effective ways to go about this—a way that is less messy and that involves people with valid opinions really making the effort to help out. A study by RAND (the leading body on correctional facilities in the United States) showed that a significant amount of inmates educated within the prison (pre-Clinton) made it back into society and now live crime-free, productive lives. It also showed that suicides were highest in prisons that didn’t offer any classes or means of education whatsoever for their inmates. New York currently has the most number of correctional facilities which are privately funded and which provide classes to their inmates on a regular basis. They also have the highest rate of rehabilitation. The governor and those who are in support of this program are enthusiastic that the public campaign will do very well.




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