Our state’s education system has been a focal point of budget negotiations in Albany this session, and with good reason. We all know the critical role that access to education plays in creating opportunities that can drastically impact the future of individual New Yorkers and our state overall.
Yet, despite knowing its value, the state has often fallen short by denying particular groups of New Yorkers access to the resources that they need to purse a quality education and a better future.
In 1995, under the direction of Governor Pataki, our state began to deny incarcerated people New York Tuition Assistance Program grants. This shift led to a dramatic decrease in the number of educational opportunities for those serving time in New York’s prisons, and resulted in lasting negative consequences throughout our society.
According to the state’s Commission on Correction, there are currently more than 77,000 individuals populating prisons and jails within New York State. While myriad factors contribute to these high incarceration figures, a broken education system that perpetually feeds the school-to-prison pipeline is a key culprit.
It is no coincidence that the very same communities chronically shortchanged on educational resources are the ones that are overrepresented in the prison population. Once behind bars, it is easy for these individuals to be portrayed as undeserving of opportunity.
This is exactly the argument that was made last year against the Governor’s proposal to provide in-prison education at a select number of facilities.
Yet, the simple reality is that as a society, we all benefit when more New Yorkers can access higher education. The research conducted over decades is clear: providing access to higher education for incarcerated people leads to dramatic decreases in recidivism. That translates to increased public safety for our communities, lower costs for tax payers, and a chance for people to turn their lives around and improve the communities to which they are returning.
An education system that fails New Yorkers from the start destroys the lives of individuals across this state, damages families and communities, and costs tax payers roughly $60,000 a year per incarcerated individual.
Even worse, for every person that returns home without having accessed higher education, his/her chances of returning to prison are around 40 percent within 3 years. It does not take an economist to see that the cost of doing nothing far outweighs the costs of taking responsibility for a broken system.
Reinstating TAP for incarcerated individuals can help to dismantle a perpetual cycle that keeps New Yorkers behind bars rather than providing them the tools to build a better state for us all.
Each year roughly 25,000 incarcerated people will return home in New York State. Let’s abandon misguided stereotypes and recognize that a failure to provide educational opportunities for any underserved community impedes the success of all New Yorkers. It’s time for New York to recognize the value of a second chance: providing education to those who may have wronged society in the past gives them the ability to help better our communities in the future.
Gustavo Rivera is a Democrat representing the 33rd District in the New York State Senate.