A recent opinion article, Let Prisoners Take College Courses, published by the New York Times on April 4, 2015, was written by John J. Lennon, an inmate at the Attica Correctional Facility in Attica, New York. Lennon, one of the 23 inmates who is enrolled in a privately funded college program at the facility, believes the program should expand to many more inmates, and in addition, have MOOC (massive open online courses) be readily available to those who aren’t accepted into the program. However, Lennon would like Govenor Andrew Cuomo to reconsider expanding the program. The proposal originally supposed to allocate $1 million dollars of the $3 billion from the corrections budget, but the backlash by law abiding citizens, that signed a “Hell No To Attica University,” sent the Governor to scrap the idea. It also resulted in a bill, “The Kids Before Cons Act, introduced by Congressman Chris Collins (co-sponsored by Tom Reed & Chris Gibson), which prevents the use of federal tax payer dollars to give prisoners “free” college education. However, the act does not ban nor prohibit states from using federal dollars to fund GED or work training programs in prisons and correctional facilities.
While I have no qualms about prisoners educating themselves, aren’t books readily available to them? Can’t they learn by reading various books on their own leisure? Why should any money, private and public, be wasted on “free” education to those confined behind bars when we already have law abiding citizens, especially families, struggling and barely getting by trying to pay to attend college? Many young students, under the age of 24, are denied financial aid for various reasons, which include parents’ substantial income, and many would have to wait until the age of 24 to be independently awarded financial government support for their education. Also, there are many college graduates who owe a large amount in college debts, both private and government loans. So why should the government give away money to offenders of the law when it should be given to actual college students, who are not incarcerated, as scholarships and grants? The inmates could use their free time to not only stare at the wall, but think about the actions that led them in prison in the first place. I’m not against nor am I denying anyone, even the incarcerated, of education, but college courses should only be taught outside of prison. So that means, if they are eligible for parole, released for good behavior or served their time, then they can wait until they are released from prison to get into a college program. Does it mean that convicted criminals can’t educate themselves? No, it just means that they can educate themselves by reading books, just not through a college course. Nothing in life is “free”, and money comes from a source that it should be used wisely.
Some believe that without rehabilitation in facilities, society would replicate recidivism, a relapse of the previous condition that will lead the ex-convict, who was previously incarcerated, to be jailed again for the similar, or different, crimes because they may feel as though there is no other options available to them. Also, they may allegedly be having a hard time adjusting back into society and their only familiarity, or learned condition and behavior, is the criminal environment. They may blame the government for failing to provide any assistance to prisoners any helpful way to transition from a criminal mindset to an educated mindset with a stable foot in the work force, when actually it is not the government nor is it the people’s responsibility to look after the inmates’ education, rehabilitation and transition processes. People have freewill and they can do whatever they want to do, under the law or above the law, if they choose to do so. These convicts had their chance to be a willing participant of society, but they freely chose the life of crime. Is it people’s fault that they put themselves in that situation? No. They made their choice and now they’re living with the consequences of their actions.