TSD Memphis

Thu04242014

Opinion

‘Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate’

America spends more money incarcerating its citizens than educating them. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s a fact.
 
 Benjamin Todd Jealous

by Benjamin Todd Jealous

Special to the Tri-State Defender

America spends more money incarcerating its citizens than educating them.

That’s not an exaggeration. It’s a fact.

The NAACP’s new report, “Misplaced Priorities,” shows how much money states spend on their criminal justice system compared to their education system – and what that means for our communities.

The results are astounding. Over the past 20 years, for example, state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Our country is home to just five percent of the world’s population, but we make up a staggering 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.

The NAACP has launched a petition asking all 50 state governors to get their priorities straight and fix this problem with a set of smart reforms to keep our communities safe. Make sure your voice is heard in your state capital.

In 2009, as the nation plummeted into the deepest recession in 30 years, funding for K-12 and higher education declined. But for prisons, the reverse was true. That year, 33 states spent more discretionary dollars on prisons than in 2008.

As our children fail to get the education they deserve, our prisons are filling up at an alarming rate. And, as usual, those most affected are communities of color. We know drug treatment is a smart alternative for non-violent offenders. It is also significantly cheaper. Educational opportunities are also cost-effective, and lead to a marked reduction in neighborhood crime. Relatively minor investments in treatment for those suffering mental illness mean fewer people in jail and more contributing members to society.

There’s no denying the irrational increase in prison spending, and its impact on state budgets and our nation’s children. But there is something you can do about it.

Sign our petition to tell America’s governors to support the NAACP’s reforms that will focus on making sure we invest in schools, not prisons.

It’s time we stop over incarcerating and under educating.

(For more information, visit http://action.naacp.org/MisplacedPriorities)

(Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP.)

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