Education in prison

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Last week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo cancelled his innovative plan to offer basic college education programs to state prisoners.

His plan, which was announced in February, was billed as an effort to prevent offenders from returning to prison and reduce overall corrections costs. Substantial evidence proves that investment in education and job training for ex-offenders makes them less likely to commit crime upon returning home and is a cost-efficient way to reduce rising prison costs. However, after attacks from New York lawmakers who opposed his plan, Governor Cuomo has decided to drop his prison education initiative. This is an unfortunate case of politics winning over smart policy.

We often refer to our jails as “rehabilitation” or “corrections” facilities, but the fact is that most inmates leave prison without the critical skills needed to be productive citizens in society.

Governor Cuomo’s plan to offer education courses to prisoners was a step in the right direction toward true rehabilitation for New York inmates. The lawmakers who opposed education courses for New York inmates argued that it was unfair for taxpayers to finance college courses for criminals.

This is a good political argument and it may resonate with some voters, but it doesn’t make practical sense. It is more expensive to incarcerate individuals than it is to prepare them with the skills needed to prevent future incarceration.

Taxpayers are paying too much for prison costs and our society is not receiving a return on its investment.

Helping ex-offenders access job training and education services are important factors in ensuring former inmates can successfully readjust to life after prison.

According to a report by the Council of State Government’s Justice Center, incarceration triggers a 19 percent decrease in the number of weeks worked annually and a 40 percent reduction in yearly earnings. If ex-offenders leave prison without a way to earn a living upon their return home, then they are less likely to have a successful transition back into society.

Investing in education and job training for ex-offenders does work. A RAND meta-analysis of 58 separate studies discovered that ex-offenders who participated in prison college programs were 43 percent less likely to commit future crime.

Take my case as an example. When I was sent to jail as a juvenile, it cost taxpayers more than $35,000 dollars to incarcerate me for seven months. After jail I went on to get my GED and attend college where I received $6,000 dollars in student loans each year.

It cost the government less money to invest in my college education than it cost to incarcerate me for less than one year.

Once I attained my college education, I was able to return the taxpayer investments in my education. I think it was more cost efficient for the taxpayers to invest in my education instead of my incarceration.
New York spends almost $3 billion dollars on its corrections budget each year and Governor Cuomo’s pilot program would have cost the state $1 million dollars.

The New York lawmakers that have attacked Governor Cuomo for using taxpayer dollars to educate prisoners are stuck in the past and impeding progress on an important issue. Those lawmakers and politicians in other states should focus on making our criminal justice system one that truly rehabilitates offenders and incentivizes them to turn their life around after they have served their time.

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