Friday, March 20, 2009

Education vs. Incarceration

Guest posted by Richard Burton; Director of Project REACH

Education vs. Incarceration and cost: A study released by The Pew Center, which look at all aspects of corrections including offenders on parole and probation, found Arizona spent 9.5 percent of its general fund on corrections in fiscal year 2008. The money spent on corrections amounted to $951 million. The states that lead Arizona are Michigan, 22 percent; Oregon, 10.6 percent; and Florida, 10 percent.

Angered and frustrated by cuts in funding for Florida public school education parents across South Florida are taking their protests to the streets, and to the internet, to have their voices heard. The Miami-Dade school district has had to cut about $300-million from this year's $5.5 billion budget. District officials expect to cut $80-million more by the end of the year. In Broward County, the cuts totaled $150 million.

The side effects to incarceration over education: In the United States, youth of color caught in the crossfire of the war on drugs are frequently subject to persecution, incarcerated and denied access to education opportunities. The irony is that the war on drugs is often defended as a necessary policy to protect the nation's young people. In reality, rather than protecting youth, the drug war has resulted in the institutionalized persecution of Black, Latino and Native American young people. While more and more young men and women of color are being ushered into the criminal justice system under the guise of fighting drugs, resources for educating youth are diminishing and barriers to education restrict students with drug convictions from receiving higher education.

Youth of color bear the brunt of harmful drug policies, from arrest to prosecution to detention in correctional facilities. Some states in the U.S. now have the distinction of sending more Black and Latino young people to prison every year than graduate from state university programs. This legacy of discrimination in U.S. drug policy amplifies the burgeoning gap in opportunities available to White youth and youth of color. In order to correct this discrepancy, policies must be enacted that make education a priority over incarceration. There must be an end to drug laws whose effect is to criminalize youth of color, racially discriminatory policing practices and barriers to education for youth who have been directed into the criminal justice system and away from school.

School Districts are taking hard looks at trimming its 2009-10 budgets in the wake of states budget forecast. It appears that legislators are pulling back on education funding and refusing to put emphasis on education reform as an urgent priority. These types of budget forecasts speak to fundamentally flawed views regarding the importance of improving the nation's education system.

Education not incarceration is needed as many across the U.S. protest against education cuts. We must examined the interconnection between public education and the growing prison-industrial complex as a civil rights and human rights issue. Furthermore, a national call to action is urgently needed on education and prison reform and sustained, not just an exchange of ideas during this economic crisis.

Richard P. Burton, Sr., Director

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