Thursday, June 5, 2014

Schools vs. Prisons: A choice to be made

It's been said many times that if society does not adequately fund education, it will end up funding prisons. A recent segment on NCPR revisits this topic in a discussion with Nell Bernstein, author of Burning Down the House: The End of Juvenile Prison.

Some facts from the segment:
  • "The American rate of juvenile incarceration is seven times that of Great Britain and 18 times that of France. It costs $88,000 a year to keep a youth locked up - far more than the US spends on a child's education." Potsdam Central spends about $15,000/year/student. To see what is spent by NYS schools, go to:
  • "About 40% of those we keep in large-scale state facilities - which are intended for the worst of the worse - are there for low-level offenses: truancy, shoplifting, loitering, disturbing the peace."
  • Detention sets juveniles up to commit more crimes.
  • Black kids are five times more likely than white kids to be locked up for the same crime. 
  • Incarceration should be the exception, not the rule. 
NYS leaders need to fund education adequately and spend money on issues related to poverty. However, as the for-profit prison industry expands, there will ever more lobbying to spend taxpayers' dollars on incarcerating juveniles.

As a reminder, the Kids-for-Cash case in Pennsylvania was disturbing. See:

"A Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison in connection to a bribery scandal that roiled the state's juvenile justice system. Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was convicted of taking $1 million in bribes from developers of juvenile detention centers. The judge then presided over cases that would send juveniles to those same centers." 

The schools-to-prison pipeline is a compelling argument to use with legislators and all officials who hold the purse strings and who have a long-range vision for society.