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More college degree programs in prison

Henrietta, N.Y. -- Does investing in more college degree programs for prison inmates make sense? It depends who you ask.

"I'm totally against it I think it's ridiculous, answered Ken Losey of Mount Morris.

"It should be rehabilitation in most cases not so much just punishment, counters Dustin Griffith of Nunda. They're not children; they're adults.

"I think there's pros and cons to the situations -- pros being everybody deserves a second chance at some point, but it also depends what they're in prison for in the first place, wondered Katie ORiley of Rochester. And I mean them getting that second chance it goes back to the economy, but at the same time I'm already so much out of my pocket to help everybody else out, so I don't know.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made his feelings known on this topic in the last few days when he pitched it to some state lawmakers at a church in Albany on Sunday.

The cost of a prison cell is $60,000, the cost of providing the college services that Bard College provides, $5,000 per year, said Cuomo.  Let's use common sense. The economic costs, the human costs, let's invest and rehabilitate people so that they have a future.

The Bard College example referenced above showed 4 percent of inmates with a degree returned to prison after release, whereas 40 percent without a degree ended up back behind bars.

"On a pure dollars-and-cents basis, if you can cut the rate of recidivism and give them something to do that's productive for society, this is absolutely a slam dunk, explained economist Kent Gardner of the Center for Governmental Research. So you might say 'Why should we be spending money on prisoners?' Well, you can pay money now or you can spend money later.

In New York state, many of the higher-education programs offered in state prison are privately funded or jointly funded with the help of not-for-profits or educational institutions.  Earning college credits is possible at many facilities, but degree programs are the exception and not the rule.  The governors proposal looks to expand those programs to 10 regions in the state.

"There's a fair bit of business doing GEDs within prison walls now, so this would really be an extension, an expansion, of what we're already doing for high school dropouts to give them that level of credibility when you get into the job market, explained Gardner.  "It's not a perfect solution, but nonetheless I think it's a reasonable, responsible thing for the state to do."

However, spending tax dollars to provide convicted felons behind bars with a college diploma is not an easy sell for every taxpayer.

I mean, come on, some of these prisoners might be in there for their life, so why are you educating them?  They ain't never going to get out, so why waste the taxpayer's money? It's ridiculous, said Losey.  They're going to do this for the prisoners, but yet they're taking away food stamps from people that need them. That is absolutely ridiculous.

You're getting food. You're getting TV. What more do you want? Education? What are you going to do with it in prison? exclaimed Comer Henderson of Henrietta. "Let them pay the cost. If they get out, let them pay the cost for getting a job or whatever. Hey, I had to do it!

"If there's some sort of scholarship process or application process, for sure, said Griffith.  "Everyone's different and someone who had a little bit of a rough ride or a bumpy course in the beginning, if they need a little help or reassurance and some backing then we should give it to them because in the end it's all about the better whole.

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Washington Times