A proposal to allow people in prison to access state tuition assistance has gained the backing of the League of Women Voters as state lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul debate whether to include the provision in a final budget agreement.
The move, proposed earlier this year by Gov. Hochul in her budget plan, would restore access to state tuition assistance after both Pell grants and money under the Tuition Assistance Program were blocked for people in prison in 1994 and 1995.
Supporters of the legislation have argued it would reduce recidivism in the state prison and criminal justice systems and provide people with job prospects once they are released.
"Education has been shown to be one of the single greatest indicators of someone’s level of civic engagement," the group said in a statement. "Access to education is the key to gaining a wider worldview and building the confidence necessary to get justice-involved people to the polls and make change in their communities. Restoring access to TAP for people in prison is a matter of racial justice, educational equity, and strengthening our democracy. When incarcerated people can access higher education, they will break cycles of incarceration across generations, participate in our democracy, and lift their communities."
The discussions over the TAP access proposal are being held as state lawmakers are considering a package of criminal justice-related measures, including changes to the state's 2019 bail law that ended cash bail requirements for many criminal charges as well as a measure to seal criminal records.
Progressive advocates have argued against any changes to the bail law as Hochul has sought more circumstances in which bail would be required, such as for gun crime charges and people accused of repeat offenses.