WASHINGTON – The NAACP has just announced an upcoming report that examines escalating levels of prison spending and its impact on state budgets and our nation’s children. “Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate” uncovers a disturbing connection between high incarceration rates and poorly performing schools. Connecticut, for example, spends $400,000 annually to incarcerate a juvenile and less than $10,000 to educate a child.
The effort is part of the NAACP’s “Smart and Safe Campaign,” an initiative designed to reform the nation’s criminal justice system.
An April 7th press conference will feature representatives of law enforcement and a growing bipartisan coalition calling on state lawmakers to rethink decades-old criminal justice policies that have undermined funding for education. In addition to NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, speakers will include Rod Paige, former Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush, and Mike Jimenez, a member of the executive committee of Corrections USA, which represents 80,000 corrections officers nationwide, and president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. Also expected at the news conference are Mitchell Kapor, philanthropist and founder of Lotus 1-2-3, and Pat Nolan of the Prison Fellowship, who worked with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to establish the conservative Right On Crime coalition.
“We need to be ‘smart on crime’ rather than ‘tough on crime’ and address soaring incarceration rates in this country,” stated Jealous. “Failing schools, college tuition hikes and shrinking state education budgets are narrowing the promise of education for young people all across the country. Meanwhile, allocations for our incarceration system continue to increase, sending our youth the wrong message about their future.”
“Misplaced Priorities” tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system. For instance, in Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, more than 65 percent of the lowest-performing schools are in neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarceration. Researchers found that over-incarceration most impacts vulnerable, often minority populations, and that it destabilizes communities. The report offers recommendations that would help policymakers downsize prison populations and shift the savings to education budgets.
A billboard campaign is set to be launched as well. It will be displayed in airports around the United States, including Houston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The ads will feature jarring statistics about our nation’s criminal justice system. One message will read: “Welcome to America, home to 5% of the world’s people and 25% of the world’s prisoners. There is a better way.”