Cornell Professor Discusses College for Prisoners

Governor Andrew Cuomo's proposal to allow state prison inmates to take college courses has sparked a backlash on social media. Many people say it's unfair, considering they are law-abiding citizens with huge college debts. Cuomo's proposal would cost about $5,000 per prisoner. He said it would reduce recidivism and save the state money, as prisoners each cost $60,000 a year.

The Cornell Prisoner Education Program is offered at Auburn Correctional Facility. Cornell offers classes and the credits can be applied toward associates degrees from Cayuga Community College. The program is privately funded.

Cornell University professor Mary Katzenstein talked to us via Skype on News 8 First at 4. She is an expert on prisons and recidivism.

"I can tell you examples. Ray, I won't use his last name, participated in bank robberies. He was released 3 or 4 years years ago. \He was one of our successful students. He now works for the Red Cross," Katzenstein said. "We offer a full spread of classes, just as we would on the Cornell campus, from chemistry to biology to humanities to Shakespeare to political science. I taught a course on theories power. So the entire curriculum is there." 

Katzenstein has heard the critics.

"I totally understand that. I've heard it from friends of mine, students. I think what that doesn't reflect, what we don't understand when we think in these ways, is just how important this is as a public safety measure," she said. "This is an investment for all of us. People who come out of prison and come back to your neighborhood, my neighborhood, our communities, our towns and when they don't commit another crime, that's something that's in the interest of all of us. And it's inexpensive."

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