Don't do the crime if you can't...pull an all-nighter for your English 101 final.

Don’t do the crime if you can’t…pull an all-nighter for your English 101 final.

Time for a pop quiz on current events, kiddies.  Which of the following statements is true?

  1. It costs a boatload of money to go to college
  2. Most Americans can’t afford to go without taking out student loans that they’ll be paying on for the rest of their natural lives and beyond
  3. It’s against the law for U.S. tax $$ to be used to pay for college tuition for criminals while in jail
  4. U.S. tax $$ will be used to pay for college for criminals while in jail
  5. All of the above

Did you choose answer # 5, “All of the above?” Good job, boys and girls!

It was recently announced that the U.S. Education Department plans to provide federal student aid so that criminals can attend college while behind bars. This would come in the form of Pell grants, a type of student aid intended for low income students. Unlike loans, these do not have to be paid back.

Congress passed a law in the 1990s which prohibits the government from spending our tax dollars to send inmates to college. In case the reasoning behind this law is not glaringly obvious: inmates are criminals who are supposed to be paying their debt TO society. They are not supposed to be receiving free perks which are better than those enjoyed by the poor, working stiffs who are trying to shoulder the already enormous and still increasing debt OF society.

It turns out that the non-elected bureaucrats at the Education Department, under the direction of the Executive Branch, are allowed to spend oodles of our money on things our elected representatives have specifically banned because, well, they want to.

The Education Department will get around the legal ban by the brilliantly simple expedient of not calling it “student aid.” One might think that money given to students to attend college would be the very definition of “student aid,” but au contraire.  This is one of the few instances where the old adage, “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably IS a duck” lays an egg.  The Education Department has decreed this is not “student aid”; it is merely a “pilot program.”  By calling it that, they can “test the effectiveness of temporary changes to the way federal student aid is distributed.”

Supporters say educational programs in jail are cost-effective when compared to the cost of re-incarceration. Opponents say that while providing basic education and/or job training to the woefully uneducated may be in society’s best interest, a college degree is a whole, other kettle of fish.  It is a luxury, not a right.

Opponents further point out that even the brave men and women who have served in our military don’t get aid for college until AFTER they get out of the service, when they have earned the privilege through hard work and can attend on their own time.    Proponents counter that it would be unrealistic to expect inmates to go to school after they get out of prison, or pay for it by getting jobs and student loans like everybody else, because that’s really, really hard.

Advocates of the free tuition program imply that if inmates do not have a college degree when released, paid for by the taxpayer while living at the taxpayer’s expense, they will have no choice but to commit more crimes when they get out.  If a criminal winds up back in jail it is solely the fault of the heartless meanies who won’t foot the bill for said criminal’s degree in Pop-Culture Studies.

Following the logic of the Education Department, the Department of Corrections is starting a “pilot program” to provide each inmate with a Lamborghini when released from prison. It is clearly unjust that only rich folks can afford these. That injustice creates an unbearable temptation for the ex-offender to steal one, which could cause them to wind up right back in jail.  Preventing that is worth any cost.   Money for this experiment will also be furnished from the public trough with the understanding that it is merely a “pilot program” whose aim is to “test the effectiveness of temporary changes to the way luxury automobiles are distributed.”

Debate about the program comes at a time when the nation’s students are heading back to school.  Most are struggling to pay tuition costs which have skyrocketed at a rate much higher than inflation. The Institute for College Access and Success released statistics that 7 in 10 students graduated from college in 2013 with an average of $28,400 in student loan debt.

A lot of people are rethinking their options in the wake of the announcement that inmates will get free tuition.

Convicted drug dealers who recently had their sentences commuted by President Obama are taking a second look at their situations. When you add a free college education to already-free legal advice, free medical and free dental, many are saying, “No thanks, Mr. President, I think I’ll stay here.”  They figure they’d be better off trading in their “Get Out of Jail Free” cards for student IDs.

Some college freshmen are considering funding their education using skills learned playing countless hours of the video game, Grand Theft Auto.  All they have to do is steal a Lamborghini of their own, and they’re guaranteed a full ride to Sing-Sing University