Prisoners should be learning instead of watching “Jerry Springer”

BLACKWOOD – A prison teacher told the Senate Budget Committee to put more money into hiring prison teachers for its inmate education program, in order to avert high recidivism rates and make them productive members of society.

Michael Makara called for allocating 1 percent more of the Department of Corrections’ proposed $1 billion budget toward hiring approximately 180 more teachers for its “Inmate to Education” programs at the state’s 13 prisons.

Makara, a vocational education teacher at Bayside State Prison in Leesburg, said the state allocates about 98 percent of its budget for security and just 2 percent for education programs/staffing. That amounts to about $2 a day.

“That’s a recipe for continued failure,” said Makara, who like other prison employees, is a member of the Communication Workers of America 1040.

While there are programs available, such as culinary arts, cosmetology and plumbing, the prisoners can’t readily take them because of too few teachers. Presently, Makara said there are long waiting lists, with literally thousands of people waiting to enroll in a GED program.

“The waiting lists are huge,” he said. “There are people sitting around watching ‘Jerry Springer’ right now,” he said.

While the DOC ultimately makes the decision of where it allocates the funds, Makara said he wanted to raise the committee’s attention on the importance of putting more resources in inmate education programs. The committee is expected to interview the DOC commissioner at a later date.

Sen. Joe Pennacchio, (R- 26), of Montville, said he would like to see concrete data that such inmate education programs are effective in curbing the prison population. He appeared frustrated that Makara’s claims were not backed by any statistics.

“We don’t have the numbers to back this up,” Pennacchio said. “Nobody keeps records on whether these programs are working?”

Makara said he is not in an administrative role and doesn’t have immediate access to such documents.

Pennacchio said it’s important to have specific information on the effectiveness of the inmate education program.

“If they’re not effective, we’ll do something else with the money.”

However, Sandra Cunningham, (D-31), of Jersey City, said more needs to be done than the status quo.

“Right now, we’re warehousing people,” she said. “We do need to find out what’s going on with the education that should be provided (to the inmates).”

Prisoners should be learning instead of watching “Jerry Springer”