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.