Education over incarceration
Special to AmNews | , Jasmin K. Williams | 5/25/2011, 9:23 a.m.
Education over incarceration is the message of a report released today by the NAACP. The nation's oldest civil rights organization is challenging America to re-evaluate its spending priorities in the report, titled "Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate," which was introduced at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In it, the NAACP calls attention to the proven fact that excessive spending on housing prisoners undermines education and public safety.
This message will be reiterated in a forthcoming billboard campaign (see below) calling out the fact that one-fourth of the world's prisons are located in America, while the country accounts for just 5 percent of the world's population overall. In short, America's "tough on crime" policies have failed.
Not surprisingly, most of those housed in the prison system--some 2.3 million--are people of color. Half of all state and federal prisoners meet the criteria for drug abuse or dependency. These inmates would be better served with treatment programs, a more successful and economical alternative to incarceration. It costs money to sustain the prison system--lots of it. The NAACP says that this money can and must be better spent.
Bronx District Attorney Robert T. Johnson said, "I have always been of the mind that, in the long run, if we want to get a handle on crime, we must commit to improving education and job opportunities. Prevention and rehabilitation have to go hand in hand with deterrence."
Here are some facts from the report:
*In 2009, as the nation's economy collapsed into depression, funding for K-12 and higher education fell while 33 states put more money into prisons than they had the previous year.
*The Pew Center on the States found that five states spent as much or more on prisons as they did on education, and that 28 states were spending 50 cents on prisons for every dollar spent on education.
*The cost of just two years of incarceration is staggering; by 2010, taxpayers in Texas will spend $175 million on prisoners sentenced in 2008 from 10 of Houston's 75 neighborhoods, 10 percent of the city's population. In Pennsylvania, the cost is $290 million to imprison residents from 11 neighborhoods. New York will spend more than half a billion dollars--$539 million--to imprison residents from 24 neighborhoods. While these inmates represent a mere 16 percent of the city's adult population, the state will exhaust nearly half of its $1.1 billion budget to incarcerate them.
*These high levels of incarceration have a direct impact on education performance in these communities; in Los Angeles, 67 percent of the lowest-performing schools are in neighborhoods with high incarceration rates. In Texas, the rate is 83 percent while in Philadelphia the rate is 66 percent.
With these facts on the table, the NAACP has called for a downsizing of the prison system and for those funds to be reinvested in education.
"The first stage is to move beyond 'tough-on-crime policies' that have been a proven failure and adopt 'smarter crime' policies that have been a proven success," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "The state of New York has been going down this road for a while, most recently with the evisceration of the Rockefeller Drug Laws last year. But it's a trend that's needed in states throughout the country.