You’re a criminal? We owe you an education

Many of our children go to school, graduate and then seek out a college or university that will meet their educational and professional dreams as well as being affordable. Too many of them are forced to take out student loans to help pay for their tuition and expenses, and then they spend up to 10 years or more paying the loans back. Many do this without a full-time job or by working a second job just to help make ends meet.

These individuals didn’t knock over a convenience store, rob a bank, shoot anyone, or steal an automobile. No, these individuals worked hard and generally obeyed the laws. But today our governor is telling the criminal that not only will we continue to feed, clothe, provide medical care, and teachers for them so they can achieve a G.E.D., now he wants to give them free college degrees as well.

In a recent article in the New York Times, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that the cost of providing an inmate with an opportunity to earn either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree is “only $5,000 per inmate per year – a fraction of the $60,000 New York spends annually to house a prisoner.”

Let me point out here that we are not talking about $5,000 instead of $60,000 – we will still be spending the $60,000 because they will still be a prisoner. I may not be a mathematician, but this looks a lot like the sleight of hand tricks one might find at a county fair.

Cuomo went on to say that by providing this education to the inmates their employment opportunities would be greater. I agree an education does help when one is seeking employment.

But where are the jobs? If there were a sufficient supply of jobs we wouldn’t have our current college graduates working at fast food restaurants, carrying bags at the local hotels, or working as cashiers and custodians at local retail outlets.

I have a suggestion, governor, wouldn’t it be less expensive to teach the prisoners a trade while they are incarcerated? How about creating apprenticeship positions where they could learn plumbing, electrical, carpentry, masonry, and a myriad of other meaningful and needed hands-on training opportunities? Having the prisoner as an apprentice should require very little, if any, additional money since they are already there and prisons are always in need of some type of repair and maintenance; this could be a win-win.

Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti started an online petition against the governor’s proposal. In the first three hours, there were nearly 350 signatures. Senator Grisanti didn’t do this because he had no compassion; he did this because giving money for a college education to those who have broken the law is just wrong. This is not a Democrat vs. Republican issue. Most people want to ensure some form of training and/or retraining for those who are incarcerated. But to give a free college education to someone who has broken the law, but to require that our children take out student loans to pay for theirs is not right.

Grisanti told the local news, “I support rehabilitation and reduced recidivism but not on the taxpayer’s dime when so many individuals and families are struggling to meet the ever-rising cost of education.”

Before we get too deep in the woods on this issue let’s take a look at what a legitimate college education in New York state can cost. If one chooses to go to Binghamton University, State University of New York, the total annual cost, which includes in-state tuition, fees, room and board and books, (excluding grants and/or scholarships) is $25,267. If Binghamton is too much, then look at another State University school, Buffalo State College. At Buffalo State the total annual cost is $12,610.

Or one could attend Columbia University in New York for a mere $65,949. But, many of our children can’t afford Columbia, Binghamton or in some cases not even Buffalo State. Even with scholarship and grant money, the costs can be exorbitant for many families. If there is more than one child, it might be near impossible.

Rather than tell our children to work hard, study, and that there is a brighter future out there once they finish college, maybe we should tell them after they graduate high school to just go down to the corner and hold up the convenience store. That way, they may be eligible for the governor’s latest handout to the disadvantaged. In a state prison, under Cuomo’s new plan and what has been touted as a “bold act,” our young people won’t have to worry about grants, scholarships or even student loans. The taxpayer will take care of them at the tune of $5,000 per year for their education, plus the $60,000 per year to house them.

If those who are incarcerated, because they have chosen to live by their own rules rather than the laws of society, will be given a free college education, then let’s make it free for all New York state residents. After all, what’s fair is fair!

We don’t need to add another freebie for criminals and non-taxpayers. I agree that education is vital to the success of those seeking meaningful employment, but it really isn’t a free lunch, it takes work and dedication. Let’s not put the word out that New York state prisoners can now get a free education in addition to their living expenses; the governor is wrong, and we need to tell him so!

Have a great day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to