Why Free College for Prisoners is a Bad Idea

Free college for prisoners is appealing, but it dispenses with justice.

Barack Obama is about to start giving Pell grants that will provide free college for prisoners. Both those in state and federal prisons will be affected, according to Politico.

Of course, this will be done in contradiction to law passed by Congress.

On Monday, [Education Secretary, Arne] Duncan said that restoring Pell eligibility for those potential students is one way his agency hopes to increase college affordability.

“We’ll have more information soon,” Duncan said.

His agency could circumvent the federal ban, doing an end-run around Congress, through its experimental sites program, which gives some colleges limited exemptions to federal financial aid rules.

“A lot of my friends here in Washington have been talking about the need for debt-free degrees. And they’re right,” Duncan said during a higher education policy speech at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “We want to do even more, developing experimental sites that will make Pell grants available to programs that award credentials based on demonstrated competency, to incarcerated adults seeking an independent, productive life after release, and to adult learners who enroll in short-term certificate programs that provide job-ready training.”

I want prisoners to improve themselves and live better lives. As decisions by Barack Obama as a totalitarian leader of our nation-state go, this is not even near to his worst.

But free college for prisoners is still wrong.

Let me show you why. Imagine your young adult son just enrolled in a vocational program in order to become better able to earn a living. Then, one night, young thugs attack him and leave him injured and hospitalized. He has to drop out of school and it will take a year for him to be healed and (hopefully) functional again. His educational goals will have to be put on hold.

So the three thugs are put in prison and now have access to free vocational training. Since they have no money to compensate your son for their crime, you are stuck paying for your son’s medical expenses. Additionally, your taxes are going to provide that education your son can no longer have to the ones who took away his education.

What I am saying is that it is inherently unjust. The state is supposed to enforce justice for us, not take it away or add injustice to injustice.

That’s the main reason it is wrong. It is wrong on principle. It is also wrong as a practical matter because it will encourage criminals and would-be criminals to be less likely to fear the judicial system. Essentially, free college for prisoners makes the cost of committing a crime lower. That means, all things being equal, the state is actively encouraging more crime than would occur otherwise.

Why should the populace be taxed to increase crime? The government is supposed to protect our rights, not increase the likelihood that our rights will be violated.

That’s my response to the theory. In my opinion, however, the real reason for the change is to help out colleges. It is likely our colleges and universities will be experiencing a financial crash in the near future, and the government is trying to toss them easy money to put off the inevitable bust.