For a while there, he's been wearing his blue ones: balancing the budget, pushing for lower taxes, more jobs, smaller government, and the like - you know, those traditional Republican jammies. But rest assured, he's swung the balance back sharply to the left, with his proposal to provide a free college education to convicts at ten prisons, spread geographically across the state. (Seeing a theme here? Regional economic development, regional casinos, regional prison college degrees -- at least you can't accuse him of keeping his head in New York City.)
Cuomo made his announcement yesterday, apparently hoping that everyone would be watching the Olympics or college basketball or golf or something, and not paying attention to pronouncements from on high (Albany) or down low (NYC). Here's the opening couple of paragraphs of the press release, the second of which is Cuomo's quote:
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a new statewide initiative to give incarcerated individuals the opportunity to earn a college degree through funding college classes in prisons across New York. Studies have shown that investing in college education for prisoners dramatically decreased recidivism rates while saving tax dollars on incarceration costs. Those who earn a college degree while in prison are less likely to end up behind bars again, therefore decreasing the number of inmates in New York state prisons.
"Giving men and women in prison the opportunity to earn a college degree costs our state less and benefits our society more. New York State currently spends $60,000 per year on every prisoner in our system, and those who leave have a 40 percent chance of ending back up behind bars. Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results. Someone who leaves prison with a college degree has a real shot at a second lease on life because their education gives them the opportunity to get a job and avoid falling back into a cycle of crime."Got that?
Paying $60,000 per year now, and adding another $10,000 to $15,000 for the two-and-a-half or three years it's going to take to earn the associates or bachelors degree, for folks who have done something criminal against another person (and by person I mean of course the breathing kind and the non-breathing kind like corporations, churches, charitable organizations and the like), OR has done something criminal against the government, such as cheating on their taxes and stuff, Or they've managed to get arrested for recreational drug use or texting or some other kind of distracted driving, or drinking too big a soda, or having too many bullets in their ammo clip. And before you yell at me, I know those aren't all Cuomo initiatives, but they fit into the theme of things.
So, how is this all going to work?
Well, we're going to ask for proposals from 'educational associations that provide college professors and classes in an accredited program' so the inmates can earn their degrees, which will help reduce our 40% recidivism rate and employ these bad guys and make them productive members of society and have them be better prepared for 'life after jail' as the Governor noted.
And to a certain extent it IS important that these folks are better prepared for life after jail. And there's probably some residual effect on you and me, the folks who live or work in a city, who like to frequent cultural activities, who like to go shopping at the mall, -- anyone who lives in an area where crime is common. It WOULD be nice if the ex-convicts in our midst were better prepared to coexist with us, and not look at my purse or My Sweet Baboo's back pocket as a target, our car as a shopping mall of small electronics, my bank as a smorgasbord, or any number of other things that criminals look at for whatever purpose.
And yes, I get that we're talking a very high percentage of minorities (49.2% African American, 24% Hispanic, 2.7% other, and 24.1% white making up our prison population, according to the Gov's press release). And I get that those communities are underachieving from an employment perspective generally compared to whites. All of that is good data, and makes for a nice 'progressive' case that we need to do something to help.
BUT -- I maintain the following:
- If you don't want to be a recidivist criminal, don't be a criminal -- the best way to not have to go back to prison is to not go there in the first place.
- If you don't want to be a criminal, spare no effort on, let nothing get in the way of, you becoming a high school graduate. Not only will staying in school help prepare you for life outside of prison, it'll help prepare you for that college education that people believe you'd deserve - if you were a prisoner.
- If you're from a horrible background, or a horrible upbringing, or a horrible neighborhood, and you manage to get yourself to school every day, and graduate, YOU deserve money for a college education significantly more than the felon from down the block.
- And, not for nothing, if you're from a loving family, that nurtures you and your desire to learn, and makes you act respectably and responsibly and makes you do your chores and your homework and be nice to animals and old people and young people, YOU deserve the opportunity for a college education significantly more than the felon from down the block.
We in New York spend an inordinate amount of time and effort and money trying to figure out how to pay for universal pre-K, because there's nothing more important than getting a good start.
We spend an inordinate amount of time and effort and money trying to figure out why we are not performing as well as the rest of the world in providing an education to our young people. We trail in math, in science, in languages - pretty much across the board. We are the leader of the free world, and at least according to some statistics, we don't hold a candle to other countries when it comes to education. That's sad, even if (as some have noted) the statistics aren't fair, or don't add up.
We complain ad nauseum about teacher salaries and benefits and how horrible it is that we pay them almost as much as customer service reps for the local utility company -- but less than what we pay someone to paint a car in a factory. We complain about curriculum, and test scores, and Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind, all the while doing exactly what we cannot afford to do -- leaving children behind.
Here's a number for you, and it's a huge success story: in an article last December, former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that the city's 2013 high school graduation rate had hit an all time high -- 66% of students graduated, a 20% increase in only eight years. Good news -- we should be so lucky in the city of Syracuse -- but here's the crushing blow to the record high: only 46% of those who graduated were college ready.
And so I'm left wondering, if the majority of kids (or even any significant percentage of them) graduating from high school are not college ready, what the heck makes the governor think that our prison population is going to be college ready? How about we give them a cheap GED instead?
I may be crazy -- and I admit, I'm not a college graduate -- but doesn't it make more sense to invest in our high school kids and prepare them for a life outside of jail, than it does to spend money on people who have already shown that they don't understand the rules or refuse to play by them?
Cuomo's press release includes this very important paragraph,which will probably get the least amount of attention:
Since the discontinuance of PELL and TAP grants in 1994 and 1995, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has supported using private funds for post-secondary education for incarcerated individuals. To further enhance the college program, DOCCS developed a model in 2007 that established working partnerships between a correctional facility, a collegiate institution in the same geographic region, and an outside, private funding source.Um, what they said -- partnerships, private funds, all that thousand-points-of-light kind of stuff. NOT taking more taxpayer money and paying it forward to people who have shown they don't deserve it.
And while you're at it, do something about that $60K per prisoner annual cost. Heck, for that amount of money, we could get all of our prisoners an Ivy League education. Maybe we should lower the bar there?