Sending Those Imprisoned to College? Maybe It´s about Time We Think Outside The Box…..
Well, maybe it is something to consider and maybe it’s about time to think of alternatives to the present system of lock up and throw away the key. We spend more per year to jail than to educate. We could put every prisoner in Louisiana in a college dorm or on house arrest and give them 8 years to graduate & SAVE MONEY!!!!
Here for your consideration is a recent article that appeared in the New York Times.
February, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced plans to underwrite college classes in 10 state prisons, building on the success of privately funded and widely praised programs like the Bard Prison Initiative. Mr. Cuomo pointed out that inmates who got an education had a much better chance of finding a job and were much less likely to menace their neighbors after release. He noted that the cost — $5,000 per inmate per year — would be a bargain compared with the $60,000 it costs to incarcerate a prisoner for a year.
Mr. Cuomo’s proposal was a baby step: $1 million in a corrections budget of $2.8 billion. It was also a bolt from the blue, announced as an applause line to a receptive audience of minority legislators without any advance work. And when the first, predictable bleats of resistance were heard, the governor dropped the college initiative from his budget.
The punch lines of the opposing politicians (mostly Republicans, but some Democrats) all struck the same theme: How dare the governor offer taxpayer money to educate convicted criminals when decent citizens skimp and borrow to send their kids to college? “It should be ‘do the crime, do the time,’ not ‘do the crime, earn a degree,’ ” said George D. Maziarz, a state senator from western New York. “It is simply beyond belief to give criminals a competitive edge in the job market over law-abiding New Yorkers who forgo college because of the high cost.” In other words, let criminals be criminals.
An upstate assemblyman, James N. Tedisco, warned that educating inmates “makes them smarter criminals.” Invoking the chemistry-lessons-gone-lethal of “Breaking Bad,” he envisioned Mr. Cuomo’s proposal “turning a bunch of Jesse Pinkmans into Walter Whites — all on the taxpayer’s dime.”
Some of the outcry had a Willie Hortonish racial overtone. A “Kids Before Cons” online petition drive organized by Republican Assembly staffers juxtaposed two photos. One portrayed jubilant white kids tossing their graduation caps in the air, over the caption: “Studied hard. Worked summer jobs. Saved. Took out loans …” The second featured a line of minority prisoners in orange jumpsuits: “Stole a car. Robbed a bank. Shot a bystander. Got a free college education paid for by YOU.”
You can take from all this is a lesson about the impetuous politics of Andrew Cuomo. You can deplore the eagerness of cynical or small-minded lawmakers to pander to our least generous instincts. But the instincts are real. The larger shame is the deep American ambivalence about the very purpose of prison.
Considering that the United States is the world’s leading warden, we should be able to answer with some conviction this question: What is prison for?
First, punishment, although it is often demeaning, brutal, psychologically debilitating and wildly disproportionate to the offense.
Second, public safety. Social scientists argue about how much of our recent decline in crime is attributable to a surge in incarceration (I’ve heard estimates from 3 percent to 30 percent). But common sense says at least some of it is.
Third, rehabilitation. The bureaucracies that run prisons are called departments of “corrections” for a reason. This is at least as important as the first two purposes, because nearly 95 percent of the incarcerated are eventually released back into society.
Alas, nearly half of those released are returned to prison within three years for committing new crimes. Clearly we are not doing a good job of “correcting.”
This is not a bleeding-heart cause. Leading conservatives and red-state politicians have supported prison college programs as a matter of public safety and fiscal prudence. A RAND meta-analysis of 58 studies concluded that inmates who participated in these programs were 43 percent less likely to return to a life of crime; even assuming that the most redeemable inmates are the likeliest to sign up, this is an incredible return on a modest investment. Moreover, wardens and prison guards believe such programs lower the explosive tensions in prison.
Yet while 76 percent of prisons in the country offer high school diploma programs, only a third offer college degrees, which are, more than ever, a prerequisite for decent jobs. Education programs are among the first things to go in a recession. Now — when the economy is in slow recovery, the crime rate is relatively low, and there is an emerging national awareness that our way of punishment wastes money and lives — should be an opportune time to expand inmate education. But it has to be sold, not sprung without groundwork.
Experts who have studied the American way of crime and punishment far longer than I have tell me, to quote Michael P. Jacobson, a veteran corrections official who heads a public policy institute for the City University of New York, that they see “almost a complete disconnect between what we know and what we do.”
“The influence of high-profile crimes, fear of crime, issues of race, the acquisition of cheap political capital — all have had far more influence on criminal justice policy than what we know works, or what is fair or just,” Mr. Jacobson told me.
Governor Cuomo is now trying to rally private donors to underwrite his college program for a year, with an understanding that he will get the state to take over in Year 2. Let’s hope. But apparently the inmates of Sing Sing and Attica are not the only ones in need of correction.
Bill Keller, a former executive editor and Op-Ed columnist of The New York Times, is editor in chief of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on criminal justice.