The Price of Choosing Jails Over Schools
Latoya Peterson, The Root | April 9, 2011

As federal, state and local governments across the nation slash their budgets to close looming shortfalls, there is one clear winner in the budget battles: correctional systems, which cost the nation nearly $70 billion annually. During the last two decades, funding for prisons eclipsed spending for higher education sixfold.

The NAACP is looking to reverse this trend with their new report, “Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate,” a 57-page examination of how our nation invests more in the prison system than in the education of our youth. This prioritization, kicked into hyperdrive during the last two decades, has led to a disturbing trend: Many of the neighborhoods that have the lowest rates of education have the highest rates of incarceration, with generations entering the same failing school systems before exiting to the criminal-justice system.

During Thursday’s press conference, NAACP President Ben Jealous advocated for “better, cheaper, safer” alternatives to the current system. The report, released under NAACP’s “Smart and Safe” campaign, hopes to illuminate how society is overinvesting in prisons as a way to solve social problems — which unfortunately fails to break the cycles of drug addiction, domestic violence and poverty that plague so many of our communities. “Misplaced Priorities” explains:

Largely as a result of the War on Drugs — which includes police stops, arrests, and mandatory minimum sentences — more than half of all prison and jail inmates — including 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of local jail inmates — are now those with mental health or drug problems. (Read more)