Writer supports Cuomo’s college push for incarcerated

Posted 20 February 2014 at 12:00 am


I am in complete agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to increase college education opportunities for the incarcerated. This seems to me to be a very wise initiative that will save taxpayers money.

It’s the simplest math: a year of a college program in a prison facility might cost the state $5,000 or so, but a year of incarceration costs at least $60,000. The cost of policing and courts for arresting and prosecuting recidivists should be added to the $60,000 figure.

It is as simple as energy conservation. There is an up-front cost for insulation, improved storm windows, and a variety of other measures, but what really matters is the long-term efficiency and savings. For example, my tankless water heater cost several thousand dollars to install, but over time it will cost me less to operate, and will put less strain on the power grid.

It is a demonstrated fact that those able to improve their educational and or vocational training while incarcerated are less likely to engage in the criminal behavior that would return them to the courts and to prison. That is an argument that thoughtful taxpayers should endorse.

I read a press release from Sen. Maziarz that opposes Gov. Cuomo’s plan. The issue he cites is that giving something free to the incarcerated is unfair to the families that struggle to pay college expenses out of pocket.

There are lots of things that appear “unfair” to taxpayers. For example, I could think that it’s unfair that I have to pay a large school tax each year when I have no children attending the Holley schools; let parents of school-age children foot the bill!

I could think that it’s “unfair” to pay for the local fire department because I’ve never had to make a fire call; I bought my own fire extinguishers and smoke alarms (and I don’t smoke), so why should I have to pay money for the people who are not as responsible?

I could think that it’s “unfair” for my taxes to fund libraries because I buy the books that I read; why should I have to pay for other people to read for free? I don’t need police services, because I’ve bought my own large arsenal of guns and ammunition to guard my home and property; why should I have to pay for other people who won’t arm themselves?

These are, of course, absurd arguments because quality of life in a community is not based on selfishness, but on care and encouragement for one another. I believe that it is an important part of our quality of life to provide opportunities for people to complete their term of incarceration with a degree. They are much less likely to require future incarceration.That’s something good for everybody.

I do agree with one part of Sen. Maziarz’ press release:I agree that it is a huge challenge for low and middle-income families to cover the cost of tuition and loan repayment, especially during tattered economic times with well-paying jobs so hard for young people to find.

The answer to this is not to set up a “straw man” argument that tuition assistance and loan programs can only be obtained by denying opportunities for incarcerated individuals eager to turn their lives around. Instead, I challenge the senator to look for other measures to address his concerns.

He is setting this up as an “either/or debate”. Why not “both/and”? His party typically accuses Gov. Cuomo of spending too much, but in this case the governor seems to have heard and is trying to reduce the costs of the criminal justice system. This is a proposal that should have come from the Republicans in the first place.

My father spent many years volunteering in prisons.He received many awards from the governor of North Carolina for this service.Though blind, he was frequently inside the jails of Raleigh doing everything he could to link the incarcerated with mentoring, addiction treatment, job training, education (GED and college), and helping lay the groundwork for a good return to society.

My father was not a “bleeding heart” liberal. His motivation came from being a businessman. To him it was obvious: the best thing for a community to do with regard to the incarcerated is to offer programs, training and education. Without these things there is a good chance that people will return to jail, and that would only increase the tax payers’ burdens.

Rather than attack Gov. Cuomo’s initiative, I would hope that Sen. Maziarz could find some common ground. That is what I look for in my legislators.


James R. Renfrew