Decisions: College Dorm Or Prison?

In the United States, you’re about as likely to live in prison as you are in a college dorm, according to the Census.

The nation’s prison population was 2.3 million in 2010. Those living in college accommodations numbered 2.5 million.

However, while governments seem happy to increase spending on the corrections system, the same cannot be said for education.

I wrote last week about this issue:

During a town hall meeting Thursday night in Yankton, a South Dakota Board of Regents official addressed the shift of educational costs from the state to the student that has occurred in the last 11 years.
State support of public higher education has dropped from 57 percent to 39 percent during that time, according to Jack Warner, the executive director and chief executive officer of the Board of Regents. Meanwhile, student expenses have risen from 43 percent to 61 percent.
Every year, the Regents staff holds meetings around the state at the invitation of local legislators. The Yankton meeting at the Avera Sacred Heart Professional Office Pavilion was the eighth of 17 planned for the year. District 18 Reps. Bernie Hunhoff and Nick Moser, as well as Sen. Jean Hunhoff, invited the Regents to Yankton for the town hall gathering.
Warner said the shifting costs and what that is doing to the affordability of secondary education has been a topic at many of the meetings so far. Just this year, $5.4 million in state spending was cut from the secondary education system.
“I worry about smart kids who come from poor families and really struggle,” he stated. “They are the ones that are often working too many jobs, having to drop out for a semester, save money and come back. Their success rates concern me.”
South Dakota remains the only state in the country without a state-funded, needs-based financial aid program to increase the pursuit of secondary education by low-income residents.
What is occurring in South Dakota is part of a larger trend in the United States of cutting funding for education, Warner said.
“If the current trend continues, what you’re seeing is the slow privatization of public education,” he added.

The New York Times wrote a story about prison spending in 2009. Here is an excerpt:

States have shown a preference for prison spending even though it is cheaper to monitor convicts in community programs, including probation and parole, which require offenders to report to law enforcement officers. A survey of 34 states found that states spent an average of $29,000 a year on prisoners, compared with $1,250 on probationers and $2,750 on parolees. The study found that despite more spending on prisons, recidivism rates remained largely unchanged.

Pew researchers say that as states trim services like education and health care, prison budgets are growing. Those priorities are misguided, the study says.

According to the Pew study, South Dakota was spending $81 million on corrections in 2008 and had one in 40 adult citizens under correctional control. That compared to one in 130 in 1982.

Nebraska was spending $179 million and had one in 44 citizens under correctional control.

I’m just saying that if you want to keep people from breaking the law and ending up in the correctional system, increasing spending (and the quality) of the primary and secondary education systems is a good place to start. Not only will it reduce crime, but it will increase economic development.

2 thoughts on “Decisions: College Dorm Or Prison?

  1. No where is this more evident than our own state with it’s lock down mentality, the conversion of two colleges to prisons.
    Prisoners were used to wire our schools for high speed internet (taking work from local contractors), work road crews (resulting in the forced early retirement of DOT workers), fight forest fires. build all the cabins for the state parks (taking work from local contractors), work for the parks department city departments (taking part time jobs away), do disaster clean up and are loaned out to various entities for manual labor.
    I have no problem with Inmates working, I have a problem with them stealing work from South Dakotans. The inmates are paid .25 cents an hour for most jobs. For Prison Industry jobs (license plates, book binding, laundry, etc) they are paid $1.80 a day of which 1/3 goes to restitution, 1/3 goes to room and board and 1/3 goes to the inmate. The P.I. jobs should continue so long as they are not stealing jobs from South Dakota contractors and businesses. A work ethic should be taught for sure.
    My question…why isn’t as much time and energy put into recruiting students to our colleges and universities and retaining our graduates as we put into the (failing) Department of Corrections?
    This is from Bernie Hunhoffs Facebook page:

    Education or Incarceration? We argue a lot about education funding in SD, but who says boo about the cost of incarceration? The state contributes about $4,300 per year for a K-12 student. Today a friend asked me how much it costs per prisoner. I multiplied the prison budget of $109 million by the inmate count of 3,450 and got a whopping $31,594.The state prison illiteracy rate is 70%, and most inmates suffer learning disabilities. So did Einstein, JFK, Edison and Lennon. Disabilities can be fixed by education. Would it be cheaper to teach Johnny how to read, write and be inspired to do good.

    How much do you think a college student spends in the state during their time here? More than $31.594.00 a year counting tuition right?

    Our state gets it wrong again…Just my thoughts on a Wednesday morning.

    • Shane, I’m in total agreement. It’s much cheaper to educate than incarcerate. The financial returns are also much better. Educated people are much more likely to be involved in things that develop the economy. However, at various levels of our society, the education system is under attack. Teachers have become the enemy to a certain segment of the population, and suggesting that taxpayers fund education is seen as an evil socialist plot. And even for those who aren’t such outliers on the spectrum of thought, they just aren’t motivated to insist on funding and taking other measures to improve education. Unfortunately, the fallout from this approach will have long-term effects that can never be corrected for the generation in school now. They will never be able to recover what they missed. It’s sad and frustrating.
      It’s good to know there are people like you who realize the tragedy of all this and are willing to educate those who have not come around. It’s important that they do. From what I’ve read, we have a lot to learn from Finland. Let’s see what they have to teach us …

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