If you a convicted killer in the state of New York, you are entitled to take college courses both while in prison and when you are released. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University, offers full scholarships to those criminals who have served their time and wish to enroll. The student who is profiled in this Sunday’s Times is a 41 year old former drug dealer whose explanation for murdering another drug dealer when he was 23 is that his girlfriend had broken up with him, he had served some time at Rikers Island and he was feeling “hopeless and angry.” (Life Beyond Bars: One Man’s Journey From Prison to College, NYT 11/6/16) By contrast with this magnanimous govt largesse, if you are the law-abiding child of a living fireman or policeman, NY state has no educational stipend for you at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice - odd, considering that law enforcement is as heavily involved in that field as law - breakers. If you are the victim of a crime, NY State does have an Office of Victim Services (OVS) but they don’t provide any assistance for your higher education. Instead, you can get lots of information related to victims’ rights in judicial proceedings, victim impact statements and restitution for your injuries. The website doesn’t mention helping to educate you while you are feeling “hopeless and angry” after your traumatic attack.
Presumably, the experts have figured out that the way to lower the enormous cost of incarceration, is to lower the rate of recidivism so that investing in educating prisoners is a way to save the state money. Mr Echeverria, the profiled ex-con in the Times has taken five years to achieve the status of sophomore, not exactly a productive financial investment by the state, to say the least. One wonders why the opportunities for prisoners do not focus on shorter term goals that might be more realistic than an eventual degree from John Jay, assuming that were possible. Culinary arts, appliance repair, construction related trades, medical and geriatric assistants - these are some of the fields that come to mind. Considering the enormously inflated costs of college education, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to help the families of public servants whose credentials might insure greater success and whose parents’ ongoing service to the state is immeasurably more deserving of scholarship aid? Why take that portion of the population whose dispositions, drug use and probable ADD along with other learning disabilities, render them least likely to excel in college, even under optimum circumstances.
If our next president is the candidate inclined to follow in Obama’s footsteps, we can expect a continuation of his Second Chance Pell Pilot Program which will award grants to 12,000 inmates to take courses at 67 selected colleges. Judging from the abysmal statistics attendant to public school achievement in large cities, this will be yet another government program with seemingly good intentions killed by blind assumptions about its students - in other words, a program that will afford as little bang for the buck as the swollen budgets of Depts of Education throughout urban America. In New York City public schools, a scant 36% of the students are proficient in Math and 38% in English - the cost of achieving this failure is almost $20,000 per pupil. We can only hope that a new administration shows greater ability to do some simple math.
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