Melissa Harris-Perry | November 18, 2012
>>> currently behind bars in the united states . as we've mentioned, more than four in ten of them upon release will be back in prison within four years. our focus this morning is how we get that number down and one part of the solution appears to be education. at least one study shows inmates who take college courses have a 46% lower recidivism rate than those who don't. here in new york , housing just one incarcerated adult cost $54,000 a year. compare that to the cost of the program we featured earlier where the total average cost to sponsor a bachelors degree , $35,000. that's cheaper than getting a bachelors degree out here. remember those inmates don't come back who are part of hudson ling. a one-time investment of $35,000, saving taxpayers the $54,000 year after year. the math seems to make sense. judge, is there any possibility that we can move towards structurally changing how we think about our responses to crime so that those who are incarcerated have opportunity?
>> only if we can find the money to do it. the budget for the bureau of prisons is over $7 billion. it's grown dramatically. the bureau of prisons still does a good job of educational programs but at the lower levels. the prison camps , we have to have a sentence of ten years or less. they have a great 500-hour residential drug treatment center. i've visited that. i've sat through the program. i had a moving experience in my life sitting next to a young 22-year-old african- american woman from arkansas that i had given a ten-year mandatory minimum to because of a crack case. and she asked me o come sit with her in her drug treatment program. just to see her responses and how she participated in the program, it just made me smile. it's something i'll never forget.
>> money is part of it but a question of political will and whether or not we feel like people who are incarcerated have the right to have these sorts of opportunities.
>> there must be listeners saying my son or daughter can't afford to go to college. why should someone in prison be allowed to. that's taking away from people in prison. we know that it works essentially. unfortunately, congress in its infinite wisdom in 1994 being tough on crime, due to violent crime control bill took away pell grant eligibility for students incarcerated. what did that do? overnight, it decimated programs in the criminal justice system . went from over 400 programs to 30 programs in two semesters. programs like sean, in terms of sustainability constantly working hard to find individual donors and foundations to be supportive. we could easily take this to scale. if sean is helping, how many people?
>> 292 currently enrolled students.
>> we have 56,000 people in prison in new york state. we could do more good i'm sure.
>> glenn, i don't want to miss that. this happened under a largely democratic president, under bill clinton . not only a massive increase in the amount of bodies, but we think of the permanent x, right? my only angst about the education programs is that then it can sometimes lead us to forget that the new policies included that folks could no longer live in public housing when they came out and as you were pointing out about the man that you have done the work on, i mean, you literally get put out on a side street . public housing is for people on the brink of homelessness as many formerly incarcerated people are. there are state laws that keep people from doing all kinds of jobs, including being a barber in the state of illinois . like i want to make sure we don't lose sight of the institutional structural assets.
>> we have publicly funded institutions across this country and private institutions that are barring people from applying to go to school based on whether or not they have a felony conviction. the work we are doing at the fortune society through the eio coalition is to try to convince congress to undo this mistake it made in 1994 .
>> is there any good news?
>> i think there is good news. there's a growing consensus that our system is broken and we're seeing reforms in different states. california is an example. maine and mississippi, mississippi of all states has become a model for how to reduce numbers of people held in solitary confinement . this is under a republican governor and legislature in maine actually. this is something that where people who are wanting to make reform to save costs. because at least in connecticut it's 44,000 to hold a person in regular prison. it's $100,000 to hold them in solitary confinement . the impulse to reduce costs can align with will rather than simply punish them. we'll see pockets of change around the country that will continue to grow as long as we share stories with this.
>> i want to give you the last word. if there are folks with loved ones incarcerated, what do we immediate to mow?
>> i think that people don't realize when we talk about partnerships with the educational courses, we think of vasser, sunni sullivan, but the department of corrections in new york is a partner in this. we could not be doing all of this amazing work without the department of corrections literally being a partner in every single step of this.
>> it matters what's happening at the department of corrections . in louisiana, in new orleans, we call where we hold juveniles youth study centers. even though we don't provide educational opportunities in these so-called youth study centers. you know, as i've told you before, glenn, i have a brother who has spent much of his adult life in and out. this remains of great interest to me. we will not be done with these issues. i'm glad there's good news. judge, i'm glad to know that there are judges who do things like visit those they sentence. we have to have our eyes open on this. now, it is actually time for a preview of weekend's with alex witt .