Are prisons more important than an education?

It’s been said that a government’s budget is not only a statement of priorities, but also a reflection of a society’s values. We’re all aware of the budget cuts recently.

Many of us have suffered at the hands of politicians in Sacramento making decisions for us that have adversely affected us. Some of us have been at the mercy of the financial aid office, trying to hustle up enough money to go to school.

Some of us are running from class to class
trying to crash, only to find out that there’s no room, and that we’re not the only ones, but rather there’s a whole coalition of us; some 20,000 wait-listed this semester alone. And why?

Why has higher education taken such a huge hit? One main reason is prison. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, “for the first time the state will spend more on incarcerating inmates than on educating students in its public universities.”

Did you know that between 1984 and 1996 California built one university and in the same time frame built 21 prisons?

Those figures paint a pretty good picture of our values. It seems as a state we put more value on incarceration rather than education. It doesn’t just seem that way. It is that way.

Take the Cal Grant award for example. This year, the Commission received more than 100,000 applications, and was only able to hand out 11,000 awards.

The Cal Grant B competitiveness award’s maximum amount for college freshmen is $1,551 for the entire school year. Seems generous right?

Until we compare it with how much the state spends on incarcerating an inmate for one year. Tax-payers are paying roughly $48,000 per year per inmate.

One might think that we are spending all that money on a good cause, but the sad truth is that we’re not.

The state is not investing any money on rehabilitation. The bulk of that money is going to correctional officers, who make more than $70,000 a year.

If the $5.7 billion we spend on prison every single year was doing anything positive, then statistics would show us that, but they’re not. The Prison Policy Initiative Web site shows us that California has the worst recidivism rate in the country and San Diego has the worst recidivism rate in the state. That means that 8 out of 10 inmates go back to prison after getting released.

We are investing taxpayer dollars on locking people up in cages with no emphasis on rehabilitation.

This is down right wrong, when students can’t receive financial aid because the budget is being slashed or when support programs like EOPS can no longer help students buy books because there’s just no money.

Paul Pfingst, former San Diego Prosecutor, said “The sentencing laws in California are incoherent. The only people that can change the sentencing laws in California are the voters.”

Change is what we need for our future and for our education. It’s been said that the key to freedom is education. It’s time we stop using that key to lock people up.

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Are prisons more important than an education?