Ritchie launches petition against Cuomo's prison education program

State Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, has launched a petition against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s program to offer free college courses to inmates in state prisons.

On Monday, the governor announced $7.3 million to fund the state’s College-in-Prison Reentry Program services at 17 prisons throughout the state over the next five years. The investment will create more than 2,500 seats for college-level education and training for those incarcerated.

Jefferson Community College is one of a handful of colleges across the state that receives grant funding to provide classes at correctional facilities in Cape Vincent, Gouverneur and Watertown.

Sen. Ritchie, however, is asking the public to sign a petition against the initiative. The senator said providing free courses to inmates is unfair to law-abiding citizens who have to pay for a college education.

“When we take steps to provide those behind bars with higher educational opportunities at no cost, it sends the wrong message to other, law-abiding individuals who work incredibly hard to pay for college,” Sen. Ritchie said in a statement. “New York should be taking steps to make college more affordable for students and families — not focusing on increased efforts to educate inmates. Locally, I would rather see our educators deployed to further address the diverse higher educational needs of our region, including working to serve the growing number of non-traditional students associated with Fort Drum.”

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesman Thomas Mailey said in a statement that investing in college education for inmates can drastically reduce the recidivism rate, resulting in long-term savings for taxpayers.

“Refusing to make this investment wouldn’t simply ignore our responsibility to help rehabilitate those who may have made mistakes in their past, but it would ignore our responsibility to the taxpayers as well,” he said.

The College-in-Prison Re-entry Program was unveiled last year as part of the governor’s Right Priorities Initiative. The program was launched in partnership with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, which is using seized criminal assets to fund higher education opportunities in prisons.

To be eligible for the program, an incarcerated individual must have no more than five years remaining on his or her prison sentence.

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