Prisoner Education Initiative and DREAM Act Goes Down in Flames
Kings County Politics (KCP)
By Stephen Witt
Governor Andrew Cuomo may talk the talk on his proposed Prisoner Education Initiative, but sources say his winking at the Republican-controlled Senate has provided cover for not having to walk the walk.
Both the Prisoner Education Initiative and the DREAM Act are not expected to get allocations as the state prepares to pass a $142 billion dollar annual budget at press time.
“The Prisoner Education Initiative was never included in the governor’s executive budget. It was simply a press release,” observed one state Senate Democratic Party source.
Under the initiative, which Cuomo released on Feb. 16, the state would provide college-level education at 10 New York State prisons, one in each region of the state, at a cost of $5,000 per year per inmate.
“Giving men and women in prison the opportunity to earn a college degree costs our state less and benefits our society more,” said Cuomo. “New York State currently spends $60,000 per year on every prisoner in our system, and those who leave have a 40 percent chance of ending up back behind bars. Existing programs show that providing a college education in our prisons is much cheaper for the state and delivers far better results.”
The release goes on to note that the majority of inmates in New York are minorities and the issue affects unemployment in minority communities disproportionately. Currently, the New York inmate population is 49.2 percent African-American, 24 percent Hispanic, 24.1 percent white and 2.7 percent identify as other.
But the measure was reportedly killed in the state Senate, which is controlled by a Republican coalition made up of 29 Republican minority members and the five-person Senate Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which co-leads the Senate and was formed in 2011 as “a bipartisan power-sharing agreement” with Republicans.
The Democratic Senate source said they were not sure if Cuomo secretly supports this coalition, but it does give him and some other elected officials political cover to kill bills that they never really believed in anyway.
“The governor and other elected officials could theoretically also use this Republican-led coalition as a red herring to say I’m for X, Y and Z, knowing the Republican Senate would never pass it,” said the source.
The source said this also appeared to be the case when the Republican-led Senate nixed the DREAM Act, which would have set aside $25 million for college tuition assistance to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Cuomo also expressed support for the DREAM Act.
State Senator Kevin Parker said this scenario makes it even more important for Cuomo to call
a special election for 11 vacant Assembly seats and two Senate seats. In particular, the Senate seats could garner a new Democrat-controlled Senate, he said.
Thus far, Cuomo has refused to call the special election, which several political pundits say is because of the governor’s opposition to having county party bosses’ handpicked candidates for special elections.
But Parker countered that without the special elections, two million residents in the state are not being represented, and had there been two more Senate votes both the DREAM Act and the Prisoner Education Initiative might have been passed.
The answer is not to cancel special elections, but to change the law whereby party bosses can’t handpick candidates in these elections, reasoned Parker.