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.