Just six weeks after announcing the plan before a gathering of black and Latino lawmakers, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, last week dropped a plan to publicly fund college classes at 10 prisons. Nationwide, only about a dozen privately funded prison education programs have survived the past two decades. There were 350 up until 1994 when the Clinton administration and Congress cut Pell grants to inmates.
The prison education setback in New York is significant. It comes amidst a growing bipartisan effort to reform federal and state prisons, as well as president Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative for boys and young men of color. But in this new environment of possibility for prison reform, there still appears to be insufficient political support from directly affected communities of color and their sending-cities for scaling back mass incarceration. Nationwide, nearly a million men and women reenter society annually from federal and state prisons. Education programs like the Bard Prison Initiative have been shown to reduce the rate of recidivism, which in New York, is 40 percent.
New York’s prison population, the vast majority of which come from downstate, is 49.2 percent African American, 24 percent Latino and 24.1 percent white. Prisons are located in upstate New York, in largely Republican and majority white counties. Political resistance to Cuomo’s plan came from the Republican-controlled state senate. But popular pushback appears to have settled on the unfairness of providing a free education to prison inmates while law-abiding citizens struggle to pay for college.
It’s not clear whether the 10 prisons initially selected for the prison education program were minimum or maximum security facilities or a combination of both. New York currently spends $60,000 a year to incarcerate one person. It costs about $5,000 a year for a year of college education for an inmate.
(h/t The New York Times)