A new study from the Justice Policy Institute (http://www.justicepolicy.org), a Washington, DC-based think-tank that advocates for alternatives to prison, has found that after two decades of harsh criminal justice policies, there are more black men in jail or prison than in college. At the end of 2000, 791,600 black men were behind bars and 603,032 were enrolled in colleges or universities. By contrast, in 1980 -- before the prison boom -- black men in college outnumbered black men behind bars by a ratio of more than 3 to 1, the study found.
The report, "Cellblocks or Classrooms? The Funding of Higher Education and Corrections and Its Impact on African American Men," also found that spending on education has suffered as a result of the imprisonment binge. Between 1985 and 2000, the increase in state spending on corrections was nearly double that of the increase to higher education ($20 billion versus $10.7 billion), and the total increase in spending on higher education by states was 24%, compared with 166% for corrections.
"This report underlines the sad reality that the nation's colleges and universities have lost budget battles to the growing prison system," said Vincent Schiraldi, JPI President and report co-author. "With harder economic times ahead, we need to find a way to responsibly reduce this country's reliance on expensive prisons so that we don't bankrupt our institutions of higher learning."
In addition to providing aggregate national figures, the report also gives a state-by-state breakdown of the contrasts between prison and education spending. In California, for example, since 1985 higher education spending from the state's general fund has declined 16%, while prison spending has increased by 184%. By 2000, prison expenditures ($4.7 billion) nearly equaled higher education expenditures ($5.5 billion). As a result, tuition rates are up, the number of black men in prison in California is up (by 39,400 since 1980) and the number of black men in college is down. Four thousand fewer black men are enrolled in college in California than in 1980.
In Texas, whose prison population is second only to California's, prison spending has increased from $590 million in 1980 to $2.629 billion in 2000 -- an increase of 346%. Education spending, meanwhile, also grew, but only by 24%. In other words, the increase in prison spending in the last twenty years in Texas has outstripped the increase in education spending by a factor of 7 to 1. Again, college students subsidized prison spending with tuition increases, as community college students saw tuition jump 29% and state university students saw a whopping 63% increase in tuition over the two-decade period.
"The dramatic tradeoff between growing prisons and shrinking classrooms is outrageous," said United States Students Association President Jo'ie Taylor. "American students will not tolerate the prioritizing of unnecessary prisons over our education. The United States Students Association opposes budget policies that hurt students and African Americans, and demands that states give schools the resources they need to provide fair access to education."
"It is sad that our states are finding it easier to contribute more to incarcerating our men and women and creating a downward spiral of poverty and destitution rather than investing through our educational system to create an upward spiral of accomplishment and achievement," said Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau. "The NAACP sees a direct link between the spending trends of the states and the plight of African American men today, and we are committed to correcting these misplaced priorities."
Todd Clear, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, told the New York Times the study's findings were significant and "tell us there has been a public policy far overemphasizing investment in criminal justice instead of in education for this population. It tells you that the life chances of a black male going to prison is greater today than the chances of a black male going to college, and it wasn't always this way," Clear said.
The study also suggests that states should consider revamping criminal justice policies with an expensive emphasis on incarceration. "If fiscal year 2003 is, as predicted, as difficult on the states as the previous year, recent history suggests that states will make up some of their shortfalls by constricting spending on education and social services, including higher education," wrote the study's authors. "If spending on higher education is limited or cut, these decisions would compound declining state investment in higher education over the fifteen-year period, as the growing corrections system crowds out colleges and universities. State legislators have an historic opportunity to choose new correctional policies that might unlock the resources they need to stave off cuts to higher education."