Gov. Andrew Cuomo today defended a proposal to provide college courses to prisoners, saying it will be a tax savings to New York to cut down on the long-term recidivism rate.
Cuomo has been criticized, mainly by Republican lawmakers, for the program announced Sunday, saying that New Yorkers are struggling with their own tuition costs and shouldn’t pay for college for inmates.
But Cuomo today said the program would actually save taxpayers and the state in the long run. The state would spend up to $5,000 a prisoner to help them get a college degree, yet New York spends $60,000 a year to house a prisoner, he said.
“If you were just doing this on the numbers, as a conservative, and you said I want to save money, this is a great investment to save tax dollars,” Cuomo told reporters in Rochester.
Cuomo said the program would start at 10 prisons, and colleges would apply to participate next month. Cuomo expects to include the proposal in his amended budget plan later today.
New York’s recidivism rate was about 40 percent, compared to a 43 percent average nationwide, according to a 2011 report from the Pew Center on the States, a national group in Washington D.C.
The Bard Prison Initiative in Dutchess County started in 1999 and provides college education to students by working with Bard College, local prisons and private donors. It has 275 students enrolled and says the recidivism rate is 4 percent in the program.
“You want to save money? Get the inmate educational skills; the recidivism rate goes down to 4 percent,” Cuomo continued.
Critics said the state shouldn’t use taxpayer money on the program at a time when aid to education and tuition-assistance efforts are limited.
But Cuomo said taxpayers should support the plan.
“A person who is paying to put their kid through college, they understand how expensive college is and then they have to pay these state taxes on top of it,” Cuomo said. “What they are really saying is I can’t pay all these bills. And the taxes are driving me crazy.”
Cuomo, who made the announcement during Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus weekend at the Capitol, said the state’s inmate population is 49 percent African American, 24 percent Hispanic and 24 percent white.