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Cuomo’s college-for-prisoners plan blasted

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ALBANY — 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. He said that followed calls, emails and Facebook messages he received against the proposal after 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.

In its first two hours online, the petition received 271 signatures, Grisanti counsel Doug Curella said. The petition and the senator’s Facebook page 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 said it will reduce the likelihood of inmates returning to crime. He proposed spending about $5,000 a year on each participating inmate’s education, noting it already costs about $60,000 annually 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.

Bard College’s prison initiative at the Coxsackie, Eastern, Fishkill and Green Haven prisons in the Hudson Valley costs $5,000 to provide one inmate “a life-changing year of college education.” Those prisons’ recidivism rate is 4 percent, compared with 40 percent for the state overall, the college said.

From a $300,000 investment to educate 60 inmates, Bard 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.

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