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Cuomo's Proposal to Educate Prisoners Faces Backlash Upstate

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Governor Andrew Cuomo's new proposal to educate prisoners is getting backlash upstate, as Republicans and other opponents say that the idea is unfair to students who already can't afford college. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

In upstate communities, local leaders have gathered more than 5,000 signatures against the governor's plan to spend $5,000 per inmate to provide college education classes at 10 upstate prisons.

Assemblyman Jim Tedisco represents part of Saratoga County. He said that his office has been flooded with complaints from constituents.

"They're calling, they're mailing, they're emailing, they're faxing us, they're coming to our offices," Tedisco said. "In markets, they talk to me about it. They say, 'Look, these are the two hurdles my son or daughter has to overcome. They got to pay for it, and they got to compete to get into it.'"

Cuomo made the announcement last week at the annual Black and Latino Caucus weekend in Albany. It was well-received by the attendees, but it's been getting a different reception in other parts of the state.

In Buffalo on Monday, the governor was asked Monday what he would say to John Lennon's widow if his killer wanted access to educational programs in prison.

"Let's put aside, some people would say, 'Well, wouldn't it be nice if we could...' Forget nice," Cuomo said. "Let's talk about a self-interest. You pay $60,000 for a prison cell for a year. You put a guy away for 10 years, that's $600,000."

The governor says that recidivism rates are currently around 40 percent, but research shows that with educational opportunities, that rate can drop below 5 percent.

"If you were just doing this on the numbers, as a conservative, and you said, 'I want to save money,' this is a great investment to save tax dollars," Cuomo said.

"The key is not to stop recidivism. The key is to stop people from being criminals to begin with," Tedisco said. "Give every bit of that money, $5,000, for every student to go to college. They won't become criminals. You won't have to protect against recidivism."

Even downstate Republicans and some upstate Democrats have been critical of the plan.

"Why should we reward bad behavior when there are plenty of people in public higher education institutions like CUNY and SUNY who did face a rise in tuition recently?" said Assemblyman Joseph Borelli of Staten Island.

So far, Cuomo has not given a price tag for the program. We were expecting to to see some cash added in the 30-day budget amendments, which were due last week, but there was no mention of the program. It will likely be negotiated as part of the final budget, due April 1.

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