Cuomo pushes plan to give inmates free degrees

ALBANY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Governor Cuomo is pushing a controversial new plan that would help inmates get free college degrees. Cuomo says the new proposal will save taxpayers money and stop a destructive cycle.

The state says it costs about $60,000 to lock someone up, it will cost about $5,000 more to educate an inmate, according to a plan the governor announced Sunday. Educating inmates will help stop the cycle, and less will return to prison, which means less money the state pays to lock them up, the governor said Sunday.

News 4 spoke with a 19-year-old college student, Lindsay Severino, who says she wants to go to jail.

Severino said, “Honestly, I would rather go to prison than pay $100,000 of debt for the rest of my life.”

Severino shared with News 4 her raw reaction when she heard about Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to pay for prisoners to get a college degree. “I found out about this on the News 4 app and I was just heartbroken.”

Governor Cuomo says this initiative will provide a college education at 10 state prisons, one in each region. It would take an inmate up to three years to complete a degree. The state says there’s proof this will work.

Back in 1999, The Bard Prison Initiative began and the governor said the so-called crazy idea worked.

Cuomo said, “Five hundred inmates were educated. Two-hundred-fifty were awarded degrees. The proof is in the pudding. Of those people who went through The Bard College program the recidivism rate has only been four percent compared to close to 50 percent.”

Republican State Senator Mark Grisanti put up a statement on his website against the proposal and his spokesperson says he doesn’t think it go far in the senate.

Grisanti said in part, “I am fighting to restore a tuition assistance program for middle class taxpayers that was previously eliminated, before I begin entertaining the idea of supporting this program.”

Early next month the state will be issuing a request for proposal that will solicit responses from educational associations that provide professors and classes in a program in order for inmates to earn their degrees.

Severino says she’s outraged because she’s a law abiding citizen who works as a waitress to pay for her college, because her parents make too much to get aid, but not enough to pay for tuition.

Severino said, “I don’t have a criminal history. I never went to jail or committed a crime, but you can’t get money. I can’t get a single dollar of student aid.”

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