In Washington on Monday, Congressmen Robert “Bobby” Scott of Virginia hosted a policy briefing based around a recent NAACP report on the grievous toll taken on the African-American community as a result of decades of over-reliance on prisons and underfunding of education. The report entitled Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate is the latest indictment of a series of harmful policies that have steered larger and larger numbers of at risk youths away from much-needed educational opportunities and into a prison system that is more and more seen as a revenue generator for states and communities hard hit by economic downturns. The report highlights a series of case studies from around the country that each illustrate an aspect of the problem, from wrecked families, to misguided drug laws and sentencing, to the dearth of money for educating at risk children. While its conclusions are depressingly predictable, it still adds important data to a debate that is just starting and needs desperately to happen.
“Today, there is no greater threat to civil rights accomplishments than the state of our country’s education system and its impact on young African-American youth. Failing schools, college tuition hikes, and shrinking state education budgets are narrowing the promise of education for young people all across the country. Meanwhile, we continue to invest billions of dollars into our corrections system, sending our youth a clear message that we value incarceration over education.”
More findings from the report:
Misplaced Priorities 1
1. Over incarceration impacts vulnerable populations and destabilizes communities.
• The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.
• The nation’s reliance on incarceration to respond to social and behavioral health issues is evidenced by the large numbers of people who are incarcerated for drug offenses. Among people in federal prisons, people in local jails, and young people held in the nation’s detention centers and local secure facilities, more than 500,000 people— nearly a quarter of all those incarcerated—are incarcerated as the result of a drug conviction.
• During the last two decades, as the criminal justice system came to assume a larger proportion of state discretionary dollars, state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education.
2. In the six cities profiled in the report, the NAACP research team found stark disparities.
Approximately each year:
• In Texas, taxpayers will spend more than $175 million to imprison residents sentenced in 2008 from just 10 of Houston’s 75 neighborhoods (by zip code).
These neighborhoods are home to only about 10 percent of the city’s population but account for more than one-third of the state’s $500 million in prison spending.
• In Pennsylvania, taxpayers will spend nearly $290 million to imprison residents sentenced in 2008 from just 11 of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods (by zip code). These neighborhoods are home to just over a quarter of the city’s population but account for more than half of the state’s roughly $500 million in prison spending.
• In New York, taxpayers will spend more than half a billion dollars ($539 million) to imprison residents sentenced in 2008 from 24 of New York City’s approximately 200 neighborhoods (by zip code). These areas are home to only about 16 percent of the city’s population but account for nearly half of the state’s $1.1 billion in prison spending.
3. Incarceration impacts educational performance at the local level.
• For three cities—Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Houston—the research team examined the spatial relationship between “high-incarceration communities” and “low-performing schools” (as measured by mathematics proficiency). By grouping five different ranges of incarceration from the two lowest to the two highest, the authors have shown where high- and low-performing schools tend to be clustered:
◦ In Los Angeles, 69 of the 90 low-performing schools (67 percent) are in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates;
◦ In Philadelphia, 23 of the 35 low-performing schools (66 percent) are clustered in or very near neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarceration; and
◦ In Houston, 5 of the 6 low-performing schools (83 percent) are in neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarceration.