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The Steuben Courier Advocate
  • O'Mara, Palmesano rip Cuomo's college-for-inmates plan

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  • A proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to offer college classes at state prisons is getting less than favorable reviews from local representatives.
    "It seems a bit outrageous," state Sen. Tom O'Mara, R-Big Flats, said Tuesday.
    The plan, which Cuomo announced Sunday, would offer associate's and bachelor's degree programs at 10 prisons across the state. He said the goal was to reduce the chance that inmates would return to prison.
    A press release from Cuomo's office said the program would spend about $5,000 per year on education for each participating inmate.
    Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, said the plan would put prisoners before middle-class New Yorkers.
    "At a time when middle class families are struggling to help their kids go to college, I think we should focus on them first before we focus on individuals in prison," Palmesano said.
    He also said if the governor is really interested in keeping criminals from returning to prison, he should reconsider closing the Monterey Shock Incarceration Facility.
    "If (the governor) wants to reduce recidivism rates and help these people who are incarcerated come back into society and have a better chance of staying out of prison, let's expand our shock facilities across the state, rather than diminish or eliminate them," Palmesano said.
    Opponents of the closure of the Schuyler County boot-camp style corrections facility have frequently drawn attention to its much lower rate of recidivism (return to prison), at 26 percent, according to O'Mara and Palmesano, compared to 42 percent for state prisoners in general.
    O'Mara also cited Monterey Shock, noting that the facility already offers a GED program, something he said was more likely to help those in prison than college classes.
    "I think if you look at the percentage of inmates that have a high school diploma or GED, it would be a very low percentage," he said.
    A joint statement from O'Mara and Palmesano noted that shock facility inmates have an 80 percent passing rate on GEDs.
    Both said the model of Monterey Shock could be expanded to accommodate a larger number of prisoners.
    While the program was originally created for young, non-violent male offenders, in recent years it's been expanded to allow inmates up to 50 years of age.
    Other Republican representatives in Albany have also rejected Cuomo's college proposal.
    State Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, has created a petition on his website to oppose the plan, and Dean Skelos, head of the Senate Republican conference, also came out in opposition.
    Even on the Democratic side, the response wasn't overwhelmingly positive.
    State Sen. Jeff Klein of the Independent Democratic Caucus told the Associated Press he was studying the proposal, and Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who heads the Senate Democratic Conference, said it was something lawmakers need to look at further.
    Page 2 of 2 - On the Assembly side, Democratic leader Sheldon Silver said they would review the plan.
    It remains unclear if the program would require legislative approval. Cuomo's office said they'd be seeking proposals from colleges in March.
    Across the state, 18 prisons already offer college classes, but those programs are privately funded.
    One such program, offered by Bard College at several Hudson Valley correction facilities, has 275 inmates enrolled and boasts a four percent recidivism rate.
    O'Mara said the proposal to spend taxpayer money on college for inmates sends the wrong impression.
    "What's the message? Go to New York, commit a crime, get a free college education?," he said.
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