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Bonacic opposes free college for prisoners

By Fritz Mayer
February 26, 2014

ALBANY, NY — New York State Sen. John Bonacic opposes Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal that state prisoners should be able to get free college courses and a degree.

On February 21, Bonacic sent an email to constituents in which he wrote, “While I am in favor of rehabilitation and reduced recidivism of inmates, I cannot in good conscience support the governor’s plan when so many individuals and families in New York are struggling to meet the ever-rising costs of higher education.

“Instead of providing an additional benefit for convicted criminals, this money should be used to increase funding for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) in order to help make college more accessible for all New Yorkers.”

Bonacic isn’t the only elected official opposed. Sen. Greg Ball started a petition against the plan and said in a statement, “While it is understandable for the need of counseling and rehabilitation, free college tuition for prisoners is a slap in the face to hard-working New Yorkers who work multiple jobs and take out exorbitant student loans to pay for the cost of higher education.”

Assemblyman Pete Lopez joined the chorus of opposition saying, “While all of us want to see those in prison emerge to become good citizens and positive contributors to the community, the governor’s proposal goes too far and is inappropriate. Offering free college education to inmates, while leaving good-standing citizens with the responsibility of paying for their own college, is simply wrong.”

Earlier this month, Cuomo announced a statewide initiative that will involve 10 prisons offering college courses. Cuomo said the goal of the program is to reduce the rate of recidivism. He said about 40% of prisoners end up back behind bars after being released, but among prisoners who receive college degrees, that number drops to 4%. Cuomo said it costs the state $60,000 a year to house a prisoner but only $5,000 to provide one year of college for an inmate, and a degree will make it much less likely that the prisoner will return to prison.

The announcement came on February 16, at the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus weekend in Albany. The state’s prison population is currently 49% African American, 24% Hispanic and 24% white.

Assembly member Jeffrion Aubry backed the proposal and said, “This would not only save taxpayer dollars by reducing the size of our prison population, it would also help to address the disproportionate representation of minorities in prison. I commend Gov. Cuomo for sponsoring this initiative, which will help reintegrate individuals into society.”