Cuomo calls for inmate college program expansion

Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in the Red Room at the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Photo Credit: AP / Mike Groll

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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday the state will expand the opportunity for inmates to get college degrees as a way to keep them from returning to prison and save tax dollars.

Cuomo said the state pays $60,000 a year to keep a prisoner incarcerated and 40 percent return to prison. Current college programs in prison cost taxpayers just $5,000 a year per prisoner, he said.

Cuomo made the announcement at the annual meeting of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus in Albany that represents a key constituency for Cuomo, who is running for re-election.

The legislature would need to approve the program in the budget once its details are known. There was no immediate comment from the Senate Republican conference or Democratic legislative leaders who have long supported expanding prison education programs.

Cuomo cited studies that he said showed 1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated at some point in life. He also said 1 in 6 Latinos will be incarcerated, compared with 1 in 17 white men, and that African-Americans constitute 49 percent of the state prison population.

Cuomo spokesman Matt Wing said there is no estimate of the state's added cost to expand the program, which would begin this year, but total costs are expected to remain $5,000 per prisoner-student. Prisoners wouldn't be required to pay for the education.

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Wing said the administration also doesn't know how much the whole program would cost or how many prisoners could be served, but said the cost will be covered in the 2014-15 state budget due April 1.

"Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results," Cuomo said Sunday."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," Cuomo said Sunday.

Cuomo said the state will seek to provide college-level education in 10 of its prisons. While the state is seeking competitive bids from private institutions, those from SUNY and CUNY also would be accepted.

The state has 58 prisons where about 54,700 men and women are incarcerated.

A 2013 state Department of Corrections report found 58 percent of inmates had a high school diploma or received the equivalency through General Educational Development tests.

"Governor Cuomo's initiative to fund these courses in our prisons will help affected New Yorkers build a better future for themselves and their families, and it will result in a reduced prison population that will save taxpayer dollars," said Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson (D-Mount Vernon).Cuomo cited studies that he said showed 1 in 3 African-American men will be incarcerated at some point in life. He also said 1 in 6 Latinos will be incarcerated, compared to 1 in 17 white men, and that African-Americans constitute 49 percent of the state prison population.

Tuition for traditional students is $6,910 a year at the State University of New York and $5,800 at the City University of New York. For state residents, the total cost of attending SUNY or CUNY away from home is typically more than $21,000 a year, according to the CUNY website.

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