New York, Feds Consider College Aid for Prison Inmates


New York legislators and advocates are making a push for the state to offer college financial aid to state prison inmates.

According to advocates and legislators, Governor Andrew Cuomo dropped the ball two years ago when he pulled support for the program which would have offered an education to prison inmates.

“He didn’t talk about it again, right, because upstate folks, union folks, the correction officers union, all of the reactionaries across the top of this state just hooted and hollered and screamed. (Joe) Six-pack got in charge, ‘No we can’t do that. I can’t send my kids. How can we send them? We need to punish, punish, punish, punish,’” said Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry.

Lawmakers in the state would like to see the program reinstated to offer TAP college aid to prison inmates.  The program had begun in the 1990s after a law was signed by President Clinton that banned Pell Grants for prisoners.  While some college-level study is currently offered to inmates, some lawmakers feel there is not enough.

The Education Inside Out Coalition reports that 59% of the state’s prisoners, or 53,000, currently hold high school diplomas.  If it were to be reinstated, they estimate around 3,200 inmates would be eligible for TAP.

Supporters of the movement say that corruption scandals currently ongoing in the New York State Legislature may help to push the bill in the Senate, writes Kyle Hughes for The Troy Record.

“I think that maybe, just maybe members of the Legislature who might been feeling a little more vulnerable now that they might also being going to prison might be more compassionate about this issue, so now is a good time to raise it,” said Vivian Nixon of the Inside Out Coalition.

At the same time, the US Department of Education is currently considering a limited exception to the federal ban on prisoners being eligible for Pell Grants while serving time.

A waiver is expected to be issued that would allow the federal government to experiment with the program at certain sites.  If the project is found to work at those pilot sites, US Congress may decide to overturn the ban that was placed on prisoners in 1994, reports Paul Fain for PBS Newshour.

A number of sources said the Obama administration supports the idea, which is set to be unveiled this summer.

The idea is expected to be met with controversy, as critics feel government money should not be spent on college programs for convicted criminals.  However, supporters argue that offering such opportunities would benefit society because criminals would then re-enter the world ready to work.

“Our association will support the reauthorization of Pell Grants for inmates,” said Steve Steurer, executive director of the Correctional Education Association. “It’s a no-brainer.”