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Prison education benefits everyone

Recent opposition to the renewed prison education initiative in New York State is shortsighted from the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mindset.

I taught in the prison education programs from 1985-1995 before they were canceled by Gov. Pataki. I found the inmate students to be receptive and eager to learn, intelligent and protective of their program. Except for the very brightest students in universities generally, they were equal to and much better motivated. They were also grateful for what to them would have been a second chance.

These programs were measurably effective. While I was teaching, the recidivism rate for those in the programs was 9 percent versus 51 percent for the general population of released prisoners. Today the gap is 4 percent versus 40 percent.

Prisons are not paradises where inmates live high on the hog from taxpayer dollars. Across the country some 700,000 inmates are released every year and the idea is to keep them out of jail. It costs taxpayers about 10 times more to confine as to educate one of these prisoners.

One writer asks what difference it would make if an ex-inmate’s resume read “convicted felon” alongside “college graduate.” Another way of putting it is what’s the difference if the resume only said “convicted felon?” The college graduate might get that second chance and the felon most likely would be back in jail at taxpayer expense.

Charles L. Bland Burt