The Link Between Education and Incarceration: The NAACP Report

The Link Between Education and Incarceration: The NAACP Report
Education and the rate of incarceration have been linked in a recent NAACP report. Learn about the report and the troubling findings.

Amidst schools struggling under tight budgets and fewer resources, a new report by the NAACP provides startling information about where state money is allocated. While schools are forced to find more ways to pinch their pennies, the cost of incarceration around the country is rising. The most disturbing fact surrounding this reality is where the money is going: to cities and neighborhoods where the quality of education is at an all-time low. It turns out that the more we spend on incarcerating individuals, the less we have to spend on public education. By the same token, the fewer that graduate from high school, the more dropouts that end up incarcerated. This vicious circle doesn't seem to have an end, but a number of law and policy makers hope to change that reality with the release of this report.

Misplaced Priorities

The title of the report by the NAACP is Misplaced Priorities: A New Report from NAACP. This organization tracked a slow but steady shift away from public education spending and into the criminal justice system. While funding for higher education between 1987 and 2007 grew by just 21 percent, corrections funding grew by 127 percent!

The researchers that conducted this survey found a distinct link between over-incarceration and the destabilization of communities, according to the NAACP website. It also found that this connection usually has the greatest impact on vulnerable and minority populations. Six cities were studied for the report, and each one showed similarly troubling results.

Surprising Statistics

According to a report from the Washington Post, the explosion in incarcerations around the country has led to some surprising statistics:

  • While the United States boasts about five percent of the world's population, it is also home to around 25 percent of the world's prisoners.
  • This country spends nearly $70 billion on incarceration, including prisons, jails and youth detention centers, as well as surveillance for those on parole and probation.
  • More African-American men are incarcerated today than were enslaved in 1850.
  • Low-income whites are the fastest group of drug-prisoners in the United States, adding to the incarceration problems the country faces.

While these statistics are eye-opening, the numbers seen in the Misplaced Priorities study are equally troublesome. We will take a look at some of the details of the study below.

What the Numbers Show

In Houston, Texas, it cost the city $175 million to incarcerate residents from just 10 of the 75 neighborhoods around the area. Many of these areas also showed an extremely high rate of low math proficiency from their residents. In Indianapolis, Indiana, 41 percent of residents who are incarcerated come from just 16 percent of the neighborhoods around the city. Low math proficiency can also be demonstrated in those areas.

The trends were similar in other major cities, like New York City, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The majority of residents from those cities who were incarcerated came from a relatively low number of the area neighborhoods. In Jackson, Mississippi, taxpayers are footing the bill for $25 million to incarcerate Jackson residents from just two zip codes. The neighborhoods make up about 45 percent of the total population in Jackson, but account for more than two-thirds of the prisoners incarcerated in 2008.

The Response to the Numbers

While spending for incarcerations was on the rise in this southern city, the Jackson Public School District had to trim millions from its budget and eliminate 125 teacher positions, according to a report in the Clarion Ledger. Former Secretary of State Dick Molpus told the Ledger, "It is patently ridiculous for Mississippi to be at the bottom of education, yet close to the top in terms of incarcerating our young adults. Kids are either going to be in high school or dropouts heading into the prison system. It's shameful we continue to allow this to happen."

NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous agrees. On the NAACP website, Jealous said, "We need to be 'smart on crime' rather than 'tough on crime' and address soaring incarceration rates in this country. 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."

What can be Done?

To answer the disturbing data released in this report, the NAACP has also made the following recommendations:

  • Improvements in sentencing and drug policy
  • The establishment of a blue-ribbon commission to review the criminal justice system
  • Passing on savings from the commission to the education system

"A poor drug addict needs the same thing as a rich drug addict," Jealous told the Washington Post. "They don't need prison. Sending them to rehab costs less. The money that we use to spend on prisons that are failing, that are too big, when we could send people to rehab that costs less, we take from our kids, we take from our schools."

While reform will be long and complex, it is garnering support from key policy and lawmakers since the release of the NAACP's report. Some of the names ready to launch changes include Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, former speaker Newt Gingrich and Mike Jimenez, president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.

"Incarceration is the most expensive alternative to dealing with any of these individuals, for dealing with drug addicts, for dealing with mentally ill offenders," Jimenez said. "The insanity has got to stop. It's high time to make a change."

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