Brighter future: Inmate education reduces crime, saves taxpayer money

ALBION — The more educated the person, the lower the recidivism rate.

It is with that thought the governor’s office awarded $7.3 million to fund educational programming and reentry services at 17 state prisons over the next five years — including Albion Correctional Facility.

Medaille College out of Buffalo has partnered with the women’s medium security prison for at least 10 to 15 years, and the grant — $400,000 of which was given to the college — would extend the program another three to five years, while expanding the facility’s capacity to teach 80 women. A maximum of about 40 women were previously able to take the college courses, in which they can take classes or complete an associate’s degree in liberal studies.

All classes within the liberal studies program is available for the participants.

“(They are) learning outcomes related to critical thinking. Writing. Analytic skills. Creative thinking. Technology skills. Things like that — English, math, literature, writing,” said Dr. Kenneth M. Macur, president of Medaille College.

Although a waiting list has sometimes been needed in the past, Macur said the expansion will give more assurance a wait isn’t needed. The program itself won’t change — the president said that most of the women in Albion typically have sentence of three to five years, so they won’t necessarily be in the facility long enough to do a four-year program. But once they get out they would be able to go to college to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

In Albion, the criteria for women to participate in the free program is typical of college requirements — a high school degree. Macur said Medaille looks at their high school abilities and works with them if they need any remediation before starting the college-level courses.

“We don’t have the discipline problems that people might expect — it’s a medium security facility, so the range of crimes committed to wind up there are a bit less severe,” he said. “This is a privilege within the facility, so conduct issues would … keep them out of it.

“Because it is an ‘at risk’ program for them, they tend to be really diligent in their studies,” he continued. “They see this as an opportunity to make something of the situation. Make themselves better, so they can be better prepared when they are released.”

Macur said he occasionally gets emails from women who appreciate being in the program. He said the best news is when college officials don’t hear anything because the women are looking to get back to a normal life.

Classes run all year during at the same time courses typically do at Medaille — summer, fall and winter. The grant has kicked in already and position requests have been submitted for additional faculty.

“Governor Andrew Cuomo’s expansion of Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’ already successful college in prison program not only goes a long way towards helping rehabilitate those preparing to re-enter society, but it will also save taxpayer dollars in the long run,” said Patrick Bailey, spokesman for New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. “With a cost of $60,000 a year to house an inmate, studies show offering such opportunity for education cuts the recidivism rate from 42 percent to 16 percent for those individuals preparing to re-enter society.”


However, not everyone is happy about the governor’s grant and program. In a news release, Assemblyman Steve Hawley said he felt the $7 million being spent on the inmates could be spent on infrastructure and on taxpayers who are struggling to provide their own college tuition.

“I call on the governor to relieve some of the burden that he placed on taxpayers to pay for his ‘free’ tuition plan and use this proposed $7 million for education at SUNY schools for law-abiding citizens,” Hawley said in the release. “I can’t believe the governor puts the future of convicted felons ahead of the young men and women of our state who are working day in and day out to provide for their families and to become pillars of their communities. The people of New York state deserve better.”

But not only is there a social good for inmates to receive college education, as it reduces the rate of re-offending, Macur said, but it provides an economic value to the taxpapers of New York. He said at this point there is an estimate that it costs a bit more than $60,000 per offender per year inside a prison to just house, feed and supervise them. The grant would help an additional 10 to 15 women in Albion not become repeat offenders when they are out.

Looking at the grant, he said, spending $80,000 annually just for Albion could save taxpayers a half a million dollars in the various costs involved in corrections.

“College education in the scheme of rehabilitation is one of the myriad programs that exist to make sure or help that the offenders be in a better place so they do not repeat offense,” he said.

Macur said people see it as an “or” — the state can only do regular college financial aid or prison college aid when the reality is that by doing prison college aid, resources are freed up for other programs in the state.

“Nobody commits a crime thinking they’ve figured out a loophole in terms of how to get free college,” he said, adding once they make their life better — through college — and get on their feet, they are taxpaying citizens.

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