How ‘Attica University’ Could Reap Rewards for New Yorkers

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy cnn.com

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has sparked controversy after proposing to fund a college program for state prisoners that has demonstrated success at reducing recidivism.

New York state prisons house around 55,000 prisoners.  Recidivism is a major problem.  Around 40 percent of prisoners who are released end up back inside prison walls.  With one year’s incarceration costing about $60,000 per year in New York state prisons, that’s a huge drain on state resources.

In an attempt to address this problem, Attica prison has been running a college program in association with Bard College since 2001, with 275 inmates currently enrolled.  Inmates can take individual classes or a full degree program, and the programs are conducted with the same thoroughness as those on campus.

The success of the Bard Prison Initiative speaks for itself.  To date, over 500 inmates have taken classes, and 250 have graduated with degrees.  These successes include many who could never have expected to achieve academic success in their home environment.  Ex-students of the program have gone on to successful jobs and careers, and even to attend graduate schools, including Columbia University and Yale.

Perhaps more impressively, the rate of re-incarceration for those who have taken classes has fallen ten-fold to just 4 percent, whilst for those who graduated with degrees that rate falls even further to 2.5 percent

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Opposition to New York’s College-in-Prison Plan Grows Despite Mountain of Supportive Research

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy cnn.com

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has put into action a plan to greatly expand college in prison offerings in the state of New York.  This plan will result in one prison in each of New York’s prison regions offering college programs to inmates, in which they could earn either an associates or bachelor’s degree.  While many have applauded Governor Cuomo’s efforts, including the labor-backed Working Families Party, which released a statement from their State Director Bill Lipton asserting, “We applaud the Governor’s bold initiative to combat the high rates of recidivism in New York through the power of education,” others have objected, and publicly so.

Opponents of Governor Cuomo’s prison education plan have included the following:

  • U.S. Representative Christopher Collins (R-Clarence) objected, saying that not only does he oppose the prison education proposal, but that he would go so far as to introduce legislation to bar the federal government from being able to finance any college-in-prison programs.  He said the prison education plan was “an insult to law abiding citizens across our state.”  He continued, “Strangely, many of these same politicians think tax dollars should be spent to give convicted criminals a free college degree.”
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