Should Your Tax Dollars Pay to Educate Violent Criminals?

This is a partial transcript from The O'Reilly Factor, November 24, 2003.

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JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: In the Back of the Book segment tonight, some of Florida's most violent sexual predators are receiving hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.  Federal aid to prisoners was banned in 1994, but, because they're being held in treatment centers, dozens of convicted child molesters and rapists are getting a free college tuition behind bars.

With us now is JoAnne Page.  She's the executive director of The Fortune Society (search), an advocacy group for ex-prisoners, who supports Pell grants (search) going to sex offenders.

OK, JoAnne.  Look, college costs going up, money available to help kids go to school going down.  Why are we giving the -- anything to these sex offenders?

JOANNE PAGE, FORTUNESOCIETY.ORG:  Well, let me ask a simple question.  Would you be willing to invest 50 cents to save a dollar and prevent crime?  And I think the answer has to be of course.

The wisest thing you can possibly do is take people who've committed crimes, invest in rehabilitation that's been proven to work, that saves money and that prevents crime.

KASICH:  OK.  That's...

PAGE:  I'm in the business of crime prevention...

KASICH:  Yes, but that's -- that's...

PAGE:  ... with Fortune Society.

KASICH:  I agree with that, but it would be great if it worked.  The problem is -- you know, like in '94, they looked at 3,138 rapists and found out that 46 percent of them committed a crime less than three years later.  There isn't any evidence to suggest that giving them a Pell grant is going to keep them from doing what they do.

PAGE:  Well, let me suggest the reverse.  First, sex offenders have a lower recidivism rate than ordinary criminals.  The difference is 43 percent versus 68 percent.  Since the Pell grant legislation was passed and prisoners no longer could go to college, recidivism rates have gone up.  There's more crime.  The simplest way of doing rehabilitation, the most cost effective is providing education...

KASICH:  But...

PAGE:  ... and it's borne out by study after study.

KASICH:  But, JoAnne, I've got to tell you, though, 75 percent of all the people who are labeled as sex offenders are employed.  I mean why not take the money and either give them treatment or follow them because 75 percent of them already have jobs.  It doesn't appear as though education's the problem here.

PAGE:  See, I couldn't agree with you more.  I think that what you want to do is prevent, whenever possible, but more than 90 percent of the people who commit sex offenses are family members, friends, those known to the person who got hurt, and, if we really wanted to do prevention, we would both invest in the prison end, in rehabilitation, and more than anything else, we'd do prevention in the families that we know are at risk.  We don't protect children against sexual abuse.

KASICH:  Well, that's a different issue than a...

PAGE:  It's horrible.

KASICH:  ... Pell grant.

So, you know, I had a -- we did this story actually on my [Fox News Channel] show, Heartland, and, you know, the guy that was on there -- he's saying that, you know, this is an addiction.  People -- you know, in many of these cases, people -- he said he sort of sleepwalks into this.  I'm not sure I buy it.

But this man or people like this are in dire need of mental treatment, not Pell grants.  So why focus on giving them a Pell grant, taking away from somebody who's a law-abiding citizen?

PAGE:  Well, first, the question of whether it takes away is a real question.  During the time that Pell grants were available to prisoners, .1 percent of the money for Pell grants went to prisoners.

The Rand Corporation did a study and found that the most single most cost effective way of providing rehabilitation was education, not instead of mental-health treatment.  But if we spend on rehabilitation, we prevent people from being victimized.

KASICH:  Yes.  I guess, JoAnne, at the end of the day, I want the people who have these problems to get help.  But I think taking money, you know, from the people in our newsroom who complain to me what the heck -- $200,000 to these sex offenders and I can't get any help to go to college.  Get them the treatment they need.  But I don't think Pell grants are going to solve the problem, and, frankly, it doesn't represent the spirit of the law.

But you know what?  I appreciate you and work you do with people trying to rehabilitate them.  Thanks for being with us.

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