The NAACP is putting a strong minority voice behind a campaign to spend more public funds on education and less on incarceration. While other groups have focused on lobbying state legislatures, the civil-rights organization is starting a national billboard campaign to call attention to what it calls the nation’s “misplaced priorities.”
Instead of relying on national data to prove its point, the NAACP, in a report released today titled “Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate,” focused on specific examples in six cities: New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Jackson, MS, and Houston.
In three of the cities–Houston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia–the NAACP found a relationship between high incarceration rates and low-performing schools. Five of six schools with low test scores in Houston, and about two-thirds of such schools in Los Angeles and Philadelphia are located in areas with high incarceration rates.
The NAACP’s formula for success, according to the report, is “shifting savings from prison closures to education budgets.”
It’s a variation on the “justice reinvestment” strategy that the Council of State Governments has been promoting in several states–essentially avoiding the construction of new prisons and spending the money saved on social services for those who otherwise might have been behind bars.
The NAACP report contained a series of reform recommendations, including: eliminating mandatory minimum drug sentences; sending more young offenders to education programs; giving prisoners earlier release dates if they take part in classes and drug treatment; and backing a national commission proposed by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va) to study U.S. criminal justice problems.
Many of the NAACP proposals are familiar, having been advanced by various criminal-justice advocates.
What is different, however, is the report’s emphasis on the tradeoff between school and prison spending. With government budgets becoming more strained nationwide, the group forecasts more school closings, teacher layoffs, and “rising tuition that puts college out of reach for many–as prison spending continues to grow.”
As the NAACP sees it, the U.S. is on a “negative, self-fulfilling cycle” in which a growing prison budget in many places cuts education funding, “undermines job readiness, stifles economic growth reduces tax revenue and leaves communities ill-equipped” to deal with other public safety challenges.
The new report is bolstered by analyses from the Justice Mapping Center, which has published a Justice Atlas (http://justiceatlas.org) that lays out, zip code, by zip code, neighborhood rates of incarceration and locations of low performing schools, among other data.
Ted Gest is President of Criminal Justice News and a contributing editor of The Crime Report