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Free College for Prisoners? Not When Law-Abiding Citizens Effectively Pick-Up the Costs

February 16, 2016

The NYTimes editorial board today opined that more post-secondary education was needed for those incarcerated in our prisons in order to reduce recidivism and provide those currently in prison “…jobs skills that make them marketable employees.” The editors decried those who opposed a recent initiative from Governor Cuomo, who sought additional funds to provide the kinds of educational programs the Times editors advocated:

In New York, for example, raucous opposition in the Legislature led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to withdraw a sensible 2014 proposal that would have set aside a mere $1 million in a state corrections budget of $2.8 billion to finance college education programs behind bars. Know-nothings in the Legislature argued that the proposal was “a slap in the face” to law-abiding taxpayers, when in fact it represented a clear cost savings for those same taxpayers.

from my perspective those who opposed the legislation could be called “know-nothings” if they did not support more funding for post-secondary education for ALL students.

In the 90s the prison programs were shuttered in large measure because state legislatures were defunding public post-secondary education at the same time as they were escalating the misbegotten “War on Drugs”. In effect, voters supported politicians who promoted the idea that kids going to community college should pay their own way and we needed to use our increasingly scarce tax dollars on prisons to incarcerate those who were using and selling drugs. If we are really serious about crime prevention and drug abuse we need to face the fact that more money will be needed in the short term to address the treatment of those suffering from the illness of addiction and to underwrite the cost of post-secondary education for those NOT in prison as well as those who are incarcerated. As long as we conceive of drug use as a moral failing and college attendance as a privilege for those who can afford it we will continue on the cycle we are now in where those who cannot afford post-secondary schooling cannot find meaningful work which can result in depression which, in turn, can lure many into drug and alcohol addiction as they self-medicate.

I believe we need to replace the culture of fear that fueled the “War on Drugs” with a culture of caring that provides some form post-secondary schooling for all. If NYS legislators oppose the increase of funding for post-secondary schooling for ALL NYS residents, including those incarcerated, they ARE know-nothings… and uncaring know-nothings at that. If they opposed the Governor’s proposal because the Governor did not seek higher funding for ALL post-secondary students, then the Governor is at fault for not reaching far enough to help those in need to pull themselves up… and HE may be the uncaring know-nothing.

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