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Community Voices - America 2010: 'Under Educate, Over Incarcerate'

Ben Wrobel | 4/13/2011, 9:46 a.m.

“As we spend more and more on incarceration, states have less and less to spend on education,” Jealous said.

Failure to make a change, the report concludes, will maintain a “negative, self-fulfilling cycle” of cutting education funding, raising tuition for higher education, undermining job readiness and reducing tax revenue.

The report’s authors focused on six cities — including Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia — to illustrate the results of continuing criminal justice policies formed in the 1970s and 1980s during the “War on Drugs.” Researchers mapped the lowest performing schools as measured by math proficiency and superimposed neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarceration.

In Houston, five of the six lower performing schools are in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates. In Los Angeles, 69 of the 90 lower performing schools are in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates. In Philadelphia, 23 of the 35 lower performing schools are in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates.

“While the relationship between education and prison spending may not always be clear to legislators when they support costly criminal justice policies,” the report says, “the cycle between lackluster support for education and the barriers facing some neighborhoods that seek to build well-educated and safe communities can be seen all across the country.

“This is particularly visible in neighborhoods where millions are spent to imprison people while schools are shut, teachers are let go, classrooms are over-crowded, afterschool programs close and college and university costs rise.”

The report concludes with 11 policy recommendations to reduce prison populations and shift the savings to education budgets. They include reforming sentencing and parole as well as expanding prosecutors diversion programs.

Ben Wrobel is a member of the NAACP Communications Office.