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State’s Message to Citizens: Prisons are More Important than College

August 28, 2012

The Common Dreams blog post describes our nation’s perverse spending priorities: many of the largest states in our country are spending more on prisons than they are on post-secondary education…. and we have a higher percentage of our population behind bars than any developed country on the planet. A couple of tidbits:

Arnold Schwarzenegger summarized California’s spending priorities as follows:

Thirty years ago, 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and only 3 percent went to prisons. Today, almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7.5 percent goes to higher education. Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future.

In Pennsylvania, the State government “…now spends twice as much on corrections as it does on higher education.”

In Massachusetts, the Boston Gobe reports that “…legislators cut state appropriations to higher education 37 percent between 2008 and 2012. The state spent dollar for dollar on higher ed and corrections in 2007.” You can do the math: spending for prisons is higher than spending for college.

But our prison population surges while the cost of college soars:

The U.S. incarceration rate in 1980 was 220 for every 100,000 people, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Today, with more than 2 million people incarcerated, the rate has climbed to 743 per 100,000 people.

Here’s another sad fact, according to the report cited above, “..nonviolent drug offenders account for “roughly one-fourth of all inmates in the United States, up from less than 10 percent in 1980.”  So let’s recount the bidding: we’re spending millions to incarcerate non-violent drug users and adding millions in debt to college students because we’re effectively shifting dollars from schools to prisons.

Where are we going? And why are we in a hand basket?

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