In February, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled what he billed as a bold plan to attack the problem of high rates of recidivism: the state would pay for college classes for prison inmates. The New York Times reports that six weeks later, after lawmakers approved the state budget this week, the governor acknowledged that his highly promoted proposal, which his advisers talked up as a major advancement in criminal justice policy, was so politically controversial that he would no longer pursue using public money to finance it.
The decision was a rare political retreat by Cuomo, a student of public opinion polls and legislative sentiment who has generally avoided the kinds of miscalculations about hot-button issues that can easily trip up a chief executive. Cuomo said he had decided against seeking public money for the prison classes because of opposition, particularly in the State Senate, from legislators who pointed out that many law-abiding families are struggling to pay for college. “I understand the sentiment,” the governor said. “I don't agree with it, but I understand it, and I understand the appearance of it.” Cuomo proposed creating publicly-funded college programs at 10 state prisons. He estimated the program would cost $1 million in the first year, a minuscule sum in a state whose corrections agency has an operating budget of $2.8 billion.