Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Cost of Education vs. Prison

To underscore an issue long raised by criminal justice advocates, the study, entitled Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate, uses data from leading researchers to illustrate how neighborhoods with high rates of incarceration also have a prevalence of woefully-funded, low-performing schools.

Misplaced Priorities, which was released in April 2011 and took one year to produce, maps out the funding disparities in six cities: Jackson, Miss; Houston, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, and New York. Among the figures: Pennsylvania reportedly spends about $33,000 per prisoner annually compared with $4,000 per college student per year. And nearly 70% of Philadelphia’s low-performing schools, based on math proficiency, are located in or adjacent to areas with the highest incarceration rates.

Nationwide, about two million people are incarcerated in correctional facilities, the largest prison population in the world. Last year, the Pew Center on the States, a research group in Washington, DC, found that the number of prisoners statewide decreased slightly for the first time in nearly 40 years. But with some 200,000 people under federal custody, most of the incarcerated are housed in state facilities at a cost of more than $50 billion annually.

Marc Mauer, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, a criminal justice research and advocacy group in Washington, DC states, “If we don’t invest enough in education, that may lead to more incarceration down the road.”

Reprinted from The Crisis, Fall 2011, p.56

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