Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cuomo backs off college for prison inmates

In February, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled what he billed as a bold plan to attack the problem of high rates of recidivism: The state would pay for college classes for prison inmates, reports the New York Times.
But six weeks later, after lawmakers approved the state budget this week, the governor acknowledged that his highly promoted proposal, which his advisers talked up as a major advancement in criminal justice policy, was so politically controversial that he would no longer pursue using public money to finance it.
Cuomo said he had decided against seeking public money for the prison classes because of opposition from lawmakers, particularly in the State Senate, who pointed out that many law-abiding families are struggling to pay for college.
“I understand the sentiment,” the governor said. “I don’t agree with it, but I understand it, and I understand the appearance of it.”
Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, had proposed creating publicly-funded college programs at 10 state prisons. His office estimated the program would cost $1 million in the first year, a minuscule sum in a state whose corrections agency has an operating budget of $2.8 billion.
College programs in prisons dwindled two decades ago after President Bill Clinton signed legislation denying Pell grants for inmates. Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican, later made prisoners ineligible for New York’s Tuition Assistance Program, cutting off another source of public funding.
The idea provoked outrage in Washington: Three Republican congressmen from upstate New York introduced what they called the Kids Before Cons Act, which would prevent federal money from being used to pay for college classes for federal or state prison inmates.
The proposal also gave fodder to Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, who is campaigning to unseat Mr. Cuomo in November. During a recent visit to Buffalo, Mr. Astorino, a Republican, spoke about how he and his wife were saving to pay for their children to go to college. “Maybe our 10-year-old son, we should sit him down and explain how to rob a bank,” Mr. Astorino said.
A Siena College poll conducted last month found that 53 percent of voters supported the governor’s proposal, compared with 43 percent who opposed it. But the poll found strong opposition among some groups: 68 percent of Republicans, and 66 percent of upstate voters.

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