California budgets $1 billion more to prisons than higher education and leaves...

California budgets $1 billion more to prisons than higher education and leaves students hanging

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Illustration by Gabriel Ivan Orendain-Necochea / Visual EditorImagine a society that spends more money on keeping its prison system alive rather than educating their citizens. Imagine a society where you soon might have more youth spending time behind bars than behind the desk.

Imagine a society that spends more money on keeping its prison system alive rather than educating their citizens. Imagine a society where you soon might have more youth spending time behind bars than behind the desk.

There is no need to imagine this kind of society; this is our reality.

The United States – especially California, which has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country – needs to reconsider its priorities when it comes to funding public education versus prisons. Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2012-13 budget allocated nearly $1 billion more to prison spending than to higher education.

The solution to our economic problems should not be weighted on the backs of students, and universities should not have to compete with prisons for state funding. We need to prioritize public education as an inalienable right and transition towards making the institution very affordable, if not cost-free to students.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a record 19.7 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities in Fall 2011 –  an increase of about 4.4 million since 2000.

Some have argued that through charging students more for their studies, the government will gain more money and use it to supplement lacking tax revenue. From the perspective of public school officials like the CSU board of trustees, an increase in tuition fees seems like the only solution to a shrinking educational budget during one of the worst recessions in history.

The problem lies in allocation. Because funding for both institutions come from the same California General Fund, prisons and universities are actually in competition with each other. According to research by California Common Sense, California’s higher education received 13 percent less state funding in 2011 than it did in 1980, while funding for prisons expanded 436 percent during the same period.

Dr. Tracy Lachica Buenavista, who teaches research methods in the department of Asian American studies, stated that though the relationship between education funding and the “prison industrial complex” is complicated, there is an identifiable correlation between the two.

“Research that has found that access to education is a deterrent to incarceration,” said Buenavista. “If they have an access to education, they are less likely to be incarcerated.”

Our budget priorities also impact the number of participants each institution can serve and maintain. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the total prison population in California was 124,00 in June – 155 percent above “design capacity.” The age group that spends most time behind bars are those between 20-24 year old – a common age for college students.

By divesting from education, we are possibly increasing the population most prone to getting caught up in the prison system – the socio-economically disadvantaged.

“There is a larger police presence in areas that are more economically disenfranchised,” said Buenavista. “The likelihood that low-income and poor people will be policed or incarcerated is greater.”

Not only does higher education deter young people from prisons, education can sometimes be the only opportunity for low-income people to lift themselves out of poverty or low social status.

“Without viable access to higher education, people who are economically disenfranchised are more likely to have just three options for life opportunities: low paying jobs, the military, and incarceration,” said Buenavista. “Without higher education, those who find themselves in poverty don’t have much opportunity for socio-economic mobility.”

Divesting from education impacts existing students. It is likely that the number one reason why students drop out of higher education is that they can no longer afford the high cost of tuition. A 2011 survey titled “Trends in College Pricing,” conducted by the College Board shows that the average cost for tuition and fees at four-year public institutions has increased nearly 51 percent over the last 10 years.

“Today, more so than any other time in California’s history, the government is giving the least amount in funding to higher education than it has ever given,” said Buenavista. “The students have to fund their higher education, rather than it being subsidized by the government.”

By contrast, college education is free and funded by the government in many other industrialized, first-world countries, such as Sweden. Many critics point out that the taxes in Sweden are relatively higher because they fund social services such as education and health care. But when education is treated as a societal benefit rather than a private good, it will not only benefit students, but likely decrease the prison population.

According to a 2010 report by The International Center for Prison Studies, the US has both the largest incarcerated population and the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the world, with 748 inmates per 100,000 residents. Meanwhile, Sweden imprisons about 80 people per 100,000 of population.

Having a degree typically results in gaining higher levels of employment and earnings. With a free and fair education system, the likelihood of people relying on public money for welfare is decreased. When the responsibility to fund the education system is taken seriously by governments, we will be on track to ending systemic inequality and help all our people to succeed, regardless of individual circumstance.

— Muna Adem is a Communications and Journalism double major and international student from Sweden. 

  • We have solution to this problem, we can save tax payers billions–does any one care to listen? For more info about my company ,our products please  contact me at d.week@ymail.com

  • We iffer solution to the problem– but no one wants to listen. My company came up with creative alternatives to prison for the non-violent criminals.   An alternative solution that 75% less cosatly than current solutions. An alternative that would punish the criminal, won’t send him to jail, won’t take him away from his family and won’t leave him wiothout work.   yes such solution is there but we’re not able to break in and people at the top aren’t listening because they’re so much into the system that they wouldn’t even look at alterantive solution put forward by our company.

  • Sorry, but you’re way off. The reason that prison spending is so high is because of the employee perks and the cost of medical care and other benefits that prisoners receive (and law-abiding citizens do not). California spends over $47,000 per prisoner each year, the highest of any state outside of the Northeast.

    In contrast, our neighbors in Nevada spend $20,000 per prisoner. Indiana and Kentucky spend less than $15,000 per prisoner.

  • Ankur Patel

    70% of Los Angeles County prisons are populated by citizens that have not been to trial. If you were actually familiar with the prison system and how it is has turned into a government structure that disproportionately destroys the lives of the poor it would make more sense as a comparison.

    70% of people in LA County prison can’t go home because they don’t have enough money to pay for bail — not because they are guilty, but because they are poor.

    • David the small-L libertarian

      Virtually everyone who’s in jail is guilty.  The vast majority of those arrested are for misdemeanors and are released on their own recognizance or go to court the next court day after the arrest.  Very few convicted of misdemeanors do more than a few days jail time; they’re given probation and community service.

  • David the small-L libertarian

    Prisons vs. higher education: a complete Non Sequitur but a comparison extremely popular with the Left.It’s the government’s fundamental duty to protect its citizens, not to send them to college to get liberal arts degrees and attend LGBT meetings.  If that protection requires high numbers in prisons, so be it.

    “We need to prioritize public education as an inalienable right and
    transition towards making the institution very affordable, if not
    cost-free to students.

    Translation:  “Gimme! Gimme! It is the responsibility of others to pay for me so I get what I want, when I want it and how I want it.  Oh, and if you don’t send me to college I’ll become a criminal.”

  • richmck

    It is really surprising that the California university systems are only now becoming
    aware of the fact that corrections spending has increased dramatically and that
    increase has reduced their budgets.  Even
    UC Berkeley economists should have realized that prison budget increases had to
    come from State funds and those increases directly impacted the university
    budgets.  

    The dramatic increases in the prison budget resulted from county jail bed
    shortages. Rather than build more jail beds or place low level offenders in
    contract facilities where they belong, the State allowed the gradual transfer
    of over a third of the jail population to prison. Because prison beds cost
    about double what a jail or contract bed costs, that decision added about $1
    billion to the annual prison budget. The decision to move parole violation
    hearings from county jails to prison also inflated the technical violation rate
    from 20%, the national average, to 35%, adding another $250 million in annual
    prison costs. The State spent an extra $20 to $25 billion in prison costs since
    1985. Apparently the University systems didn’t even notice that happening. If
    some outstanding economists receive Nobel prizes, there should be an
    internationally recognized Bobby prize for the UC economists who couldn’t even
    realize that their paychecks were at risk!

     

    The dramatic increases in the prison budget resulted from county jail bed
    shortages. Rather than build more jail beds or place low level offenders in
    contract facilities where they belong, the State allowed the gradual transfer
    of over a third of the jail population to prison. Because prison beds cost
    about double what a jail or contract bed costs, that decision added about $1
    billion to the annual prison budget. The decision to move parole violation
    hearings from county jails to prison also inflated the technical violation rate
    from 20%, the national average, to 35%, adding another $250 million in annual
    prison costs. The State spent an extra $20 to $25 billion in prison costs since
    1985. Apparently the University systems didn’t even notice that happening. If
    some outstanding economists receive Nobel prizes, there should be an
    internationally recognized Bobby prize for the UC economists who couldn’t even
    realize that their paychecks were at risk!

     

  • LiberalsAreIntolerant

    Hansook Oh, how about doing the readers a favor and do a complete story…. do you have an agenda or are you just lazy or incompetent?  Your report is only part of the picture, you did not mention the that less than 30 days after Gov Brown came into office he signed a generous contract for prison guard union.Up until then the prison guards were working for about 3 years without a contract. 

    You didn’t mention the huge waste and massive benefits the prison guards and inmates enjoy.

    You didn’t mention the average cost of spending per inmate compared to other states. The problem isn’t enough money for school it’s how our state government has weak leadership on both sides of the house to stand up for the taxpayer and say no to our public employee unions. If the prison guard union didn’t give $2mil to Gov Brown election campaign then maybe he would feel beholden to look at some of the waste in our prison system.

    How about you stop being an hack and roll up your sleeves and do some decent reporting. … come to think of it maybe that’s why this hack piece in the opinions section, the editor probably canned your idea on it being a “Real” news story and told you to post it in the opinions section.

    • DecentHumanBeing

      Hold on, I speak Jackass. Let me translate it into Decent-Human-Being:
      “Hansook Oh, although I understand this is an opinion article and not a news post, I feel that you could have gone further with this. In my opinion, your report is only part of the picture and you did not mention that less than 30 days after Gov Brown came into office he signed a generous contract for prison the guard union. Up until then the prison guards were working for about 3 years without a contract.

      I believe you overlooked the huge waste and massive benefits the prison guards and inmates enjoy.

      Also you did not mention the average cost of spending per inmate compared to other states. From my perspective, the problem isn’t enough money for school it’s how our state government has weak leadership on both sides of the house to stand up for the taxpayer and say no to our public employee unions. If the prison guard union didn’t give $2mil to Gov Brown election campaign then maybe he would feel beholden to look at some of the waste in our prison system.I appreciate you discussing a topic I am passionate about, but I felt this was only half-way there. And seeing as you are the opinion editor as according to your staff page, I fully understand that this was not an attempt at reporting news and purely reflects your opinion. ”

      This is how an adult would provide effective criticism and actually encourage Hansook Oh. I find being a decent human being works best at getting my points across.

    • Ankur Patel

      I don’t think anyone would disagree on understanding the prison guards union (http://www.ccpoa.org/) — more precisely: California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Instead of laying blame on someone else for not doing research, call the CCPOA out by name.

  • ProgressivesSuck

    Twelve years of education is free in California and additional education at the Community Colleges is still inexpensive and can be free for students from low income families.

    • Ankur Patel

      The real issue is the quality of education. Going to school for 12 years and coming out not being able to read or do math is a failure for everyone involved.

      We do graduate kids from high school that can’t read or do math.