Prisons Cost; Education Pays

Tom Hanson over at OpenEducation.net adds some sobering insights into the implications of the recent Pew report that 1 in 100 Americans is behind bars, including this:

While states did collectively increase funding for higher education an inflation-adjusted 21% between 1987 and 2007, states spending on prisons rose an inflation-adjusted 127%. In our neck of the woods, the Northeast, the 20 year period has seen an inflation-adjusted increase in prison spending of 61% and a decrease in higher education spending of 5.5%.

While New York is heading in the right direction: increasing education funding and locking up fewer people — progress can never be taken for granted. New York struggles with fewer revenues as Wall Street becomes less able to fill out the state’s coffers. Bad times can mean more bad behavior. And “law ‘n order” rhetoric has always worked as well in New York as anywhere else.

It makes sense to go in the direction Tom Hanson suggests, before the pendulum swings:

Clearly one potential solution is to address the mandatory sentencing guidelines, especially those related to non-violent crimes. If the mandatory sentencing guidelines are not leading to a decrease in overall crime then those guidelines must be revamped.

In addition, we think it is time to review our approach to the so-called war on drugs, one of the most expensive failures in our country’s history. The time and money spent fighting an arbitrarily defined illegal drug trade must be rethought, especially in light of the fact that we currently sanction a legal drug trade of two of the worst drugs known to man, tobacco and alcohol. The inconsistency in this arena certainly deserves consideration.

But most importantly, we need to think prevention and the best way is to invest in our children. We noted earlier the return on our money, as high as 16:1, for equal access to quality preschool and educational opportunities. A child with a future becomes an adult with hope.

Amen to that. And thanks for being in touch, Tom. You have a good website there.

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