Friday, February 29, 2008

Less School, More Prison: Coincidence?

My partner Annie teaches in a public school district that is facing a $5 million cut next year.

I teach at a university that is also facing severe cuts; as an adjunct faculty member, I'll likely face a lay-off notice in my mailbox (that may or may not be followed-through on).

And now I see the New York Times is reporting that one in 100 American adults is behind bars.

These prison and jail statistics include the fact that these percentages are incarcerated:

* One in 36 Hispanic adults
* One in 15 black adults
* One in nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34
* One in 355 white women between the ages of 35 and 39
* One in 100 black women

It's truly a sickness that our country spends so much time and money on the back-end of crimes and not nearly enough on the front-end of education.

The abysmal statistics for people of color reflect, in great part, the abysmal inequities of the school systems, as books such as Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities make horrifically clear.

Not to mention that it's much much easier to get little or no jail time for a crime when you've got money and connections--or if you're white. For instance, research shows virtually the same rate of drug use in white populations as black, "yet this proportion is not remotely reflected in the prison population."

And there's also the case of a crime as "lesser" because it's one committed by white or wealthy people (such as the lighter sentencing policies for selling powder vs. crack cocaine).

We need to stop incarcerating non-dangerous offenders. And we need to pour the savings into education.
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