Cuomo's prison education program draws criticism from Republicans

Feb 21, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is defending his plan to pay for college classes for prison inmates, saying it will cut down the number of convicts sent back to prison.

Cuomo has proposed expanding a program that currently offers privately funded college courses in some state prisons. The program would offer associate's and bachelor's degree education at 10 prisons, which Cuomo says will reduce the likelihood of inmates returning to crime.

But the idea of using state money has angered Republican lawmakers, like Buffalo-area U.S. Rep. Chris Collins. He contends that the governor's plan is "an insult to law abiding citizens" and is one of a group of Republicans against the proposal.

He says he will introduce legislation prohibiting federal money form being used to provide college courses for those serving prison time.

State Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, launched an online petition against the proposal earlier this week. He says it follows many negative calls, emails and Facebook messages about the proposal.

Sen. Dean Skelos, head of the Senate Republican Conference, says he doesn't believe taxpayers should provide prisoners with free college tuition while middle-class families struggle to pay for their children's education.

But Cuomo says providing the courses to inmates is an investment.

"You want to save money, get the inmate educational skills," Cuomo said Thursday in Rochester. "The recidivism rate goes down to four percent, believe it or not. And just on the numbers, it's a very prudent investment."

Providing a prisoner with an associate's or bachelor's degree will cost the state about $5,000 a year. It costs $60,000 to house an inmate for one year.