By Christopher Zoukis

While combating idleness and restlessness in America’s prisons is certainly necessary to avoid disruptions and violence, how this is accomplished is up for debate.

Lawmakers in New York State said no to a proposal this month, during the last legislative session, made by Governor Andrew Cuomo that would allocate $1 million a year to allow prisoners to earn a college degree.  This proposal sparked a political firestorm.  While this proposal was to reduce recidivism rates upon release from custody, the message was clear.

Lawmakers say they don’t want taxpayer dollars to go towards educating prisoners, saying that their constituents were struggling to pay tuition for their kids.  However, from 2009 to 2014, a contract with St. Louis-based Swank Motion Pictures totaled approximately $1 million with the newest contract, signed off on by State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, one that will run until March 31, 2019, totaling approximately $894,000.  In fact, for more than two decades, New York State has been paying to show feature films to prisoners.

While study after study, even several conducted in the New York correctional system, indicate that educating prisoners is the only reliable means of reducing recidivism, Corey Ball and other New York politicians have sponsored online petitions like “Say ‘No’ to Free College for Prisoners,” and “Hell No to Attica University.”  All have declined to comment on the subject of educating prisoners versus movies as therapy.


Originally published in Prison Legal News, August 10, 2016.

About Christopher Zoukis, MBA

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the Managing Director of the Zoukis Consulting Group, a federal prison consultancy that assists attorneys, federal criminal defendants, and federal prisoners with prison preparation, in-prison matters, and reentry. His books include Directory of Federal Prisons (Middle Street Publishing, 2020), Federal Prison Handbook (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), Prison Education Guide (PLN Publishing, 2016), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Company, 2014).