Andrew Cuomo got flak when he announced plans to fund college classes for inmates in 10 of New York's prisons, and ended up backing off the idea. But he was right, writes Bill Keller in the New York Times. After all, "what is prison for?" Yes, one of its purposes is punishment, but the other two are public safety and rehabilitation, and educating inmates helps to achieve both of those goals. Right now, more than 40% of released criminals end up back in jail within three years. But studies have shown that convicts who take part in prison college programs are much less likely "to return to a life of crime," Keller writes.
Cuomo noted a year of college would cost $5,000 per inmate, significantly less than the $60,000 spent on a year of incarceration (or re-incarceration). But right now, only one-third of US prisons offer college degree programs. "Now—when the economy is in slow recovery, the crime rate is relatively low, and there is an emerging national awareness that our way of punishment wastes money and lives—should be an opportune time to expand inmate education," Keller writes. Cuomo's program, which he's now attempting to get private donors to fund for a year, is a good first step. Click for Keller's full column.