By William J. Morgan Jr.
On paper, a college education for inmates appears to be a viable solution to reducing recidivism rates in New York State.
However, it is mere window dressing to say we are doing something about the crime problem, as the theory goes the educated inmate is more likely to stay out of prison. The majority of the type of offenders who are eligible for college programs are already prone to rehabilitation and may seek college upon release.
In the fiscal crisis that New York is experiencing, college programs for inmates is the last thought that should come to mind. Many law-abiding citizens of New York struggle to pay for college tuition, going into massive debt and having trouble finding jobs upon graduation. Is it fair that convicted felons receive a free college education and vie for jobs that would otherwise be achieved by honest people?
The statistics indicate that 67 to 75 percent of offenders will re-offend within three years of release from prison. Crime, for most offenders, is a lifestyle just as most people have and maintain a career. Through predatory behavior, their goals are achieved no matter the shape, the crime evolves and continues in some form.
One item the governor has not considered is that, more than likely, a smarter criminal will evolve in the process – that is, using the education to continue criminality. This would not serve the theory of rehabilitation or the economy of New York. Rehabilitation must come from within the individual just as crime is an individual choice.
An alternative solution is to create articulation agreements between the state and private educational institutions to volunteer their services. That method would eliminate the burden to the taxpayer and fulfill the governor’s goal.
A more practical solution is to continue with the rehabilitation programs in place coupled with cognitive-behavioral interventions, which give inmates a conscience. This may provide them the processes to think about the consequences of immoral behavior.
Thus, a better person may evolve who has the discipline to go to college and vie for jobs with law-abiding people.
If the governor wants to be proactive, it would behoove him to offer inmates some advice: Take advantage of the many rehabilitative prison programs offered, get out of prison and apply to the competitive college process and job search just like anyone else.
William J. Morgan Jr., Ph.D., is a criminal justice college professor.