The argument for publically funded college degrees for inmates

People often turn to a life of crime when the economy isn’t stable. And this isn’t surprising. It is extremely difficult to compete in a tough job market when the unemployment rate is high. It’s even more difficult if a person lacks the adequate skills needed in today’s 21st century job market. As a result, incarceration rates, particularly for drug crimes, have risen throughout the country.

However, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposed an interesting idea to reduce the number of inmates incarcerated in his state and the costs associated. The idea has gained momentum and sparked a nationwide debate among media outlets.

The program

According to Gov. Cuomo, there’s a 40 percent chance that inmates will end up back behind bars after being released from prison. One reason is because many inmates are in no better position when they leave prison than when they first arrived. So, they often return back to a life of crime.

Cuomos says that providing inmates the opportunity to gain college degrees while they are in prison will increase their chances of obtaining employment upon release. He recently revealed plans to implement a college degree program in prisons throughout New York State where inmates can take classes to receive either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree while incarcerated.

Presently, 76 percent of prisons in the country offer GEDs for inmates, and that’s tremendous. However, very few institutions today offer inmates any college level training. In today’s 21st century job market, a college degree is essential. A GED, unfortunately, no longer carries the weight it used to.

Cuomos also points out the costs that would be saved from such programs. A RAND study that examined three decades of research reveals that every dollar spent on educating just one inmate saves $4-5 on re-incarceration costs, a significant amount considering there are tens of thousands of inmates presently serving time.


Unfortunately, the governor received plenty of backlash for his taxpayer funded plan and his idea was eventually struck down.

Opponents argue that incarceration is meant to punish offenders and that they shouldn’t be receiving “free” services. However, advocates of the initiative are quick to also point out that the intentions of incarceration are also to rehabilitate offenders.

There’s a reason why prisons are also referred to as “correctional institutions,” advocates say. Nearly 95 percent of individuals behind bars are released back into society. Giving them an opportunity to rehabilitate and be productive members of society will benefit not just the inmate, but everyone.

Nationwide attention

Cuomo has confidence in his idea. He still plans to move forward with the program via help from private donors and nonprofit organizations.

Whether the program is a success remains to be seen, but one thing is certain-the initiative and its plausibility has gained momentum. It’s likely other states, like California, may propose similar initiatives in the future if the measure turns out to be successful in New York.

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