Senators Oppose Cuomo’s Prison College Idea

ALBANY (AP) -

Several state senators on Tuesday attacked Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to fund more college classes in prisons, criticizing spending on inmates ahead of other students in a tough economy.

Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, mounted an online petition against it after he said he received calls and emails since it was unveiled on Saturday by the Democratic governor at the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.

“I support rehabilitation and reduced recidivism but not on the taxpayer’s dime when so many individuals and families are struggling to meet the ever-rising cost of education,” said Grisanti, who wants funding restored first for graduate tuition assistance.

The petition, in its first two hours online, got 271 signatures, Grisanti counsel Doug Curella said. The petition drew comments like Jeanine Baran’s: “How about free college for those on the outside?”

Cuomo’s program would offer associate’s and bachelor’s degree education at 10 prisons, one in each region of the state. Cuomo says it will reduce the likelihood of inmates returning to crime. He proposed spending about $5,000 a year for an inmate’s education, noting it already costs about $60,000 to incarcerate each of the state’s 54,000 inmates.

College classes already are offered at 18 of the state’s more than 50 prisons for limited enrollments and are almost entirely privately funded.

From a $300,000 investment to educate 60 inmates, Bard’s College calculates state savings of $1 million annually from 21 fewer people sent back to prison.

Sen. Dean Skelos, head of the Senate Republican Conference and a co-leader of the coalition that runs the chamber, said Tuesday he opposes Cuomo’s plan. He doesn’t believe taxpayer dollars should pay for tuition for felons while families have to take out student loans to help their children go to college, spokesman Scott Reif said.

Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, are studying the proposal. Klein is co-leader of the majority coalition.

It was unclear if Cuomo will need the Legislature’s approval to expand the program, though many other lawmakers expressed support. The governor’s office said the state on March 3 will request bids from educational associations that provide college professors and classes in an accredited program.