Study Compares Number of Blacks In Prisons, Higher EducationWASHINGTON
A study released last month by a Washington think tank shows that in the last two decades, state spending on corrections grew at 6 times the rate of state spending on higher education. In addition, by the close of the millennium, there were nearly a third more African American men in prison and jail than in universities or colleges.
The study, titled “Cellblocks or Classrooms? The Funding of Higher Education and Corrections and Its Impact on African-American Men,” was conducted by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).
According to the study, between 1985 and 2000, the increase in state spending on corrections was nearly double that of the increase to higher education ($20 billion versus $10.7 billion), and the total increase in spending on higher education by states was 24 percent, compared with 166 percent for corrections. The study also reports that in 2000, there were an estimated 791,600 African American men in prison and jail, and 603,000 in higher education.
“This report underlines the sad reality that the nation’s colleges and universities have lost budget battles to the growing prison system,” says Vincent Schiraldi, JPI president and report co-author. “With harder economic times ahead, we need to find a way to responsibly reduce this country’s reliance on expensive prisons so that we don’t bankrupt our institutions of higher learning.”
As corrections assumed a larger share of state spending, the burden for paying for college has shifted to students. From 1980 to 1998, tuition and fees support for higher education has risen at 8 times the rate of state support. For low-income families, the cost of paying for tuition at a four-year institution increased from 13 percent of their income to 25 percent. Pell Grants cover far less of the total cost of tuition than they did in the 1980s.
The progress made in improving African American access to college has been eclipsed by the growth of the nation’s African American male incarcerated population. The study estimates that between 1980 and 2000, three times as many African American men were added to the nation’s prison systems than were added to colleges during the last two decades. In 2000, there were at least 13 states where there were more African American men incarcerated than in college. And from 1980 to 2000, JPI estimates that 38 states and the federal system added more African American men to their prison systems than they added to their respective higher education systems.
“It is sad that our states are finding it easier to contribute more to incarcerating our men and women and creating a downward spiral of poverty and destitution rather than investing through our educational system to create an upward spiral of accomplishment and achievement,” says Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau.
The report suggests that states could lift some of the fiscal strain of enlarged corrections systems by choosing new policies that would reduce the expensive emphasis on incarceration. In the past year, a diverse group of states in all regions and with governors and legislatures of all parties have enacted legislation to end mandatory minimum sentencing, reform the nation’s drug laws, and reduce probation and parole violations.
For more information visit the Justice Policy Institute’s Web site at <www.justicepolicy.org>.
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