Tonawanda News

Columns

February 19, 2014

DUVALL: Middle ground on Cuomo's prison plan

Tonawanda News — I find Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to pay for college degrees for the state’s prison inmates a compelling and incredibly interesting debate.

More than any issue in the news of late I think it defines — fairly on all sides — whether you’re a liberal, a moderate or a conservative.

Before the opinions, the facts: Cuomo, citing a pilot program at a prison near Albany, has proposed paying for inmates to obtain a college degree. The pilot program included 250 inmates. On average, of every 100 inmates in prison who are let free, 40 will find themselves back behind bars again. Of the 250 inmates who studied for college while serving their prison term, the recidivism rate dropped to just 4 percent.

It costs New York taxpayers $60,000 per year to house a single inmate in prison. It costs $5,000 per year to provide them with a college education. 

Cuomo and other liberals argue it’s a smart investment and rightly puts the emphasis back on the corrections part of the Department of Corrections.

Prison time isn’t just punishment for committing a crime. Or at least it shouldn’t be. It should be time spent trying to improve and correct the kind of behavior that warranted the state taking away an individual’s freedom.

After all, it isn’t called the Department of Punishment.

Conservatives are outraged the state would spend money on college degrees for criminals when law-abiding citizens are paying for their own tuition for the same degree.

We’re rewarding bad behavior while ignoring the good apples who are actually contributing to society — and not to mention paying some pretty high taxes to do it.

As is generally the case, the liberal argument is pragmatism rooted in idealism; the conservative argument is righteousness rooted in a sense of individual responsibility. 

There’s a third way.

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