Educate or incarcerate? NAACP pushes states to shift priorities.
While education spending declined during the recession, most states increased prison spending, according to a new report from the NAACP.
Sixth-graders glimpse a stark choice when they climb aboard a specially-equipped school bus that’s touring Mississippi: Stay in school, or you might end up in a jail cell like the one replicated at the back of the bus, complete with sink and toilet.Skip to next paragraph
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State lawmakers, too, need to make better choices if they want more kids to end up with diplomas instead of criminal records, the NAACP argues in a report released today.
Over the past two decades, states’ spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of spending on higher education, notes the report, “Misplaced Priorities.” In 2009, while K-12 and higher education spending declined during the recession, 33 states spent more discretionary dollars on prisons than they had the year before.
The current system largely warehouses people who need treatment for drug and mental health problems, while at the same time taking dollars away from education, one of the best ways society can prevent crime, the report says.
“We need to cut bait with failed, so-called ‘tough on crime’ policies and embrace proven ‘smart on crime’ policies [by] shifting from incarceration to treatment for the low-level, nonviolent drug offenders that are crowding our prisons,” says NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous.
Critics of such a policy shift raise concerns that it sends a message that crime, and its victims, won’t be taken seriously.
“To suggest that there should be no consequences or reduced consequences for hurting other people or taking their property is nonsensical,” says James Pasco, executive director of the Legislative Advocacy Center of the Fraternal Order of Police. He agrees society should do better preventing crime, but says that many of the people in jail for what the report characterizes as minor crimes actually pleaded down from more serious crimes.
A diverse set of business, law enforcement, and education leaders from across the political spectrum endorsed the NAACP's report, including Rod Paige, secretary of Education under President George W. Bush; Mitchell Kapor, founder of Lotus; and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.
The civil rights group also unveiled a public-awareness campaign featuring airport billboards with messages such as: “Welcome to America, home of 5% of the world’s people and 25% of the world’s prisoners.”