Hawkins Calls for Tuition-Free College for All Prisoners – and All New Yorkers

Hawkins Calls for Tuition-Free College for All Prisoners – and All New Yorkers

Hawkins says Governor Cuomo's plan to allow college for prisoners should be done in every prison, not just ten. Hawkins also called for other reforms to the criminal justice and prison system and for Tuition-Free SUNY, CUNY, and Community Colleges for all New Yorkers.

Hawkins Calls for Tuition-Free College for All Prisoners – and All New Yorkers

Syracuse, NY – Howie Hawkins, a Green candidate for Governor, said today that Governor Cuomo's plan to allow college for prisoners should be done in every prison, not just ten.

Hawkins said he also supported efforts by the state to curb the abuse of solitary confinement, though he would go further than the state has done, especially for youth and the developmentally disabled.

“Education is a human right. Providing quality public education for incarcerated individuals is the right thing to do however you look at the issue, whether it's a GED program or college level courses,” said Hawkins, responding to an announcement by Governor Andrew that he would be releasing an RFP for colleges to provide college courses at New York State prisons. According to Cuomo, it would cost about $5000 per year to provide education to inmates on top of the $60,000 New York State currently spends to house each inmate.

“Every prisoner should have the opportunity to further their education, including higher education. Prisoners released with college degrees will have a much better chance of securing decent employment and successful re-entry into society,” said Hawkins, who was the Green candidate for Governor in 2010 and is seeking the party's nomination again in 2014.

Hawkins said a college for prisoners program would provide incentives for good behavior by prisoners, prepare them for release, and save public money by reducing recidivism.

“If Cuomo's college for prisoners program is good, it should include all prisons, not just the ten prisons in the governor's proposal,” Hawkins said. 

Hawkins noted that currently, less than 15 percent of students in juvenile detention centers nationwide finish high school or complete a GED. Few prisons offer opportunities for adult inmates to pursue college degrees. That can make finding a job and reintegrating into society in a positive way much more difficult.  Inmates earn 40 percent less per year than if they had not been incarcerated.

“That's often because they lack the education they need to succeed in the workforce,” Hawkins said. “It's no surprise then that at least 40 percent of the country's incarcerated population ends up back behind bars within a decade. For the few states that have turned to prison education programs to break that cycle, the results are clear. Ohio, for example, reduced recidivism rates by more than 60 percent among ex-inmates who completed a degree in prison. In New York, less than eight percent of the inmates who took college classes wound up back in prison within three years. The re-incarceration rates for those who didn't take those classes was much higher, at 30 percent.”

A study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that for every dollar spent on correctional education, the state saved $12. Another study from the University of California, Los Angeles found that a $1 million investment in incarceration prevented just 350 crimes, while the same investment in education prevents 600 crimes,

More than 50% of incarcerated people have children. When parents participate in postsecondary education the likelihood their children will go to college increases, creating more opportunities for multiple generations to climb out of poverty. Two-thirds of incarcerated persons were at or below the poverty level prior to their incarceration.

Hawkins would also end the practice of colleges such as SUNY using criminal history to screen applicants during the admission process. He noted that there is no evidence to suggest that past criminal histories of students are relevant risk factors that affect the rate of crime on campuses. He also supports restoring eligibility for Federal Pell Grant and NY State TAP Grant for ex-offenders. 

“Prisons should not be an economic development program for rural communities. It is social insanity for urban working class people of color as prisoners and rural white working class people as guards to be first encountering each other through bars in state prisons. We need better job alternatives for both communities,” Hawkins said.

“We need to reduce the number of prisoners in New York. The biggest reform to do that would be to end the war on drugs that has targeted community of color and resulted in people of color comprising three-quarters of the prison population. Drug abuse should be treated as a medical problem, not a criminal problem. Drug treatment on demand should be part of a public single-payer health plan providing full medical services to all New Yorkers. Drugs should be legalized, regulated, and taxed, starting with marijuana,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said another reform to reduce the prison population should be expanding alternatives to incarceration or nonviolent offenders, such as probation or work release for paying fines, victim restitution, and community service. 

Hawkins also called for state funding of county Public Defenders Offices to insure no defendant is denied competent legal counsel for lack of money. He also called for cities to have the same rights as towns to draw juries of their peers from their municipal jurisdictions instead of from the surrounding county. 

Tuition-Free SUNY, CUNY, and Community Colleges

In response to state legislators of both major parties who have criticized Cuomo's college for prisoners program on the grounds that students not in prison cannot afford college, Hawkins said, “Most of them are hypocrites because most them are not supporting Tuition Free NY bill.”

The Tuition Free NY bill (S6511-2013, A8585-2013) would provide tuition-free education at SUNY, CUNY, and community colleges for students who perform each year in college 250 hours of community service, or 125 hours for students in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), and stay in New York for at least five years after graduation.

Hawkins also addressed the concerns of students and recent graduates who have incurred enormous debts in recent years going to college. “We also need a Debt Jubilee for indebted students. We need to provide solutions to college graduates, rather than a lifetime of payments to banks,” said Hawkins.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, about 60 percent of students graduate with debt in New York State. Americans now have over $1 trillion in student loan debt. In New York, students graduate from college with an average debt of $25,000. 

“A student debt jubilee could be paid for by the Federal government by cuts to military spending and higher marginal tax rates on high incomes. Another option is for the Federal Reserve to buy-up student debt securities,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said a student debt jubilee would provide a broad economic stimulus because those currently struggling with monthly loan payments would be freed to spend what they are currently paying to banks in the economy on goods and services and on starting families. 

“If the federal government can bail out banks, the way it has been through quantitative easing to the tune of trillions of dollars, the federal government can bail out students. The economy would be the better for it, as was shown by the G.I. Bill, which provided virtually free higher education for returning World War II veterans, along with low-interest loans for homes and businesses. The G.I. Bill had a sevenfold return, making it one of the best investments Congress ever made,” Hawkins said.

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