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Glades Correctional Institution inmates reading in the prison library, Belle Glade, Florida, 1975. Photo: Tom McLendon.
Glades Correctional Institution inmates reading in the prison library, Belle Glade, Florida, 1975. Photo: Tom McLendon.

Prison college education is returning to New York

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled a new plan to bring college education back into New York prisons. Cuomo's new initiative will offer college level education at ten New York State prisons, one in each region of the state, though the prisons haven't yet been identified.

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Reported by

Natasha Haverty
Reporter and Producer

Funding for prison education programs went away almost entirely in the 1980s and '90s, in the same period that the number of inmates was soaring to all-time high.

In 1994 when President Bill Clinton announced that men and women behind bars were no longer eligible for Pell grants, it marked a turning point. Up until then, educational and vocational programming had been a normal fixture of many prisons, recognized as an effective tool for helping inmates reenter society.

Today more than forty percent of New York state prisoners don’t have a high school diploma or a GED. According to the Correctional Association, a reform advocacy group, less than a fifth of the inmates at the facilities they visited were enrolled in any kind of academic class.  

Prisons are a major industry here in the North Country with more than a dozen state and federal correctional facilities in our region.

State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, a Democrat who has pushed for reforming the prison system, issued a statement arguing that education will reduce prison populations and save taxpayer dollars. 

According to a press release from Gov. Cuomo's office, it costs New York State $60,000 a year to incarcerate one person, it will cost $5,000 a year to provide inmates with a college education, and  education is proven to significantly reduce the chance of someone ever coming back to prison. New York’s recidivism rate today is 40 percent (read the full press release here).

Some men and women inside New York state prisons do currently have the opportunity to take college courses, but almost all of those programs come from outside institutions, and are privately funded. The program would offer both associates and bachelor’s degrees. In two weeks, the state will begin the process of finding college professors and courses.

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