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Paying Prisoners to go to College Opposed by Republicans and Others

By Mike Hudson

Gov. Andrew Cuomo drew the wrath of practically every elected official in Niagara County after proposing that prisoners be given free educations.

Cuomo announced the radical program at the annual meeting of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus in Albany. The program is expected to be tucked into Cuomo's budget proposal to the state legislature.

"Someone who leaves prison with a college degree has a real shot at a second lease on life," Cuomo told assembled members of the caucus.

Cuomo said the state's inmate population is 49 percent African American, 24 percent Hispanic and 24 percent white. There are currently about 54,200 prisoners in the state's penal system.

State Sen. George Maziarz led the attack against the Cuomo proposal.

"For our state to demand that taxpayers foot the bill for the college education of prison inmates is a huge slap in the face to those families who are playing by the rules and struggling to make ends meet so they can have a brighter future," he said. "Those are the New Yorkers who should enjoy greater opportunities to attend college."

Maziarz also criticized the cost of the plan, which would provide each inmate with up to $5,000 to help them earn a college degree.

"In announcing the prison-to-college proposal, it is worth noting that the administration couldn't even put a price tag on the scheme," Maziarz said. "My constituents can be assured that I will do all I can to see that this proposal is defeated."

Assemblyman John Ceretto, who came out against the plan last week, is now circulating a petition hoping to derail the plan. The "Kids Before Cons" petition, which is being sponsored by the entire Assembly Minority Conference, already has almost 4,000 signatures after just three days. The petition can be found at http://bit.ly/KidsB4Cons as well as on Ceretto's Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/pages/John-D-Ceretto/.

"My office has received a lot of calls and emails in opposition to the idea of giving free college education to convicts," said Ceretto. "Together with my Assembly Minority colleagues, we are united in the belief that New York must put 'Kids Before Cons' and help the working-class families who go into serious debt to pay for college . . . As a father whose kids have taken out loans and worked to put themselves through college, I know that hard-working families deserve help before people who have been incarcerated for breaking the law."

In a rare show of bipartisan anger at the Democratic governor, the Niagara County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution that opposed Cuomo's college-for-criminals scheme and called on the New York State Legislature to block it. The resolution was sponsored by every single member of the County Legislature's Republican and Democratic caucuses.

"Making New York's taxpayer many of whom have worked long and hard at difficult jobs to pay for their own and their children's educations-pay so that murderers and rapists and other felons can receive college degrees isn't simply wrong. It's ludicrous," Majority Leader Rick Updegrove told colleagues.

Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, who contacted Clarence Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin to register his opposition to Cuomo's college-for-criminals scheme, said watching his own family members work hard at jobs to pay for school weighed heavily on him.

"There are no jobs in this state under this governor," Burmaster said. "You almost wonder if they would be better off robbing a 7-11 for the educational benefits."

Freshman lawmaker Randy R. Bradt agreed.

"The purpose of prison is supposed to be punishment. This is giving them a reward."



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

Feb 25, 2014