The United States prefers mass incarceration to mass education

Welcome to the United States of Incarceration. According to a recent federal report, from 1989 to 2013, “All states had lower expenditure growth rates for PK–12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections was more than 100 percentage points higher than the rate for education … Over the past three decades, state and local government expenditures on prisons and jails have increased about three times as fast as spending on elementary and secondary education.” The three decades’ long surge in police violence as well as in prison and jail deaths has been funded by taking money from schools and dumping it, along with Brown and Black bodies, into prisons and jails.

Texas leads this punitive race to the bottom. Between 1989 and 2013, Texas’s “corrections” budget increased by 850 percent, handily leading all other states. Next in line are Wyoming (712% increase), New Mexico (704% increase), and Idaho (701%). While nationally prison spending has risen three times as fast as school spending, in Texas, prison spending has risen eight times as quickly. Between 1989 and 2013, Texas’s public pre-K through 12 budget increased a mere 182%. With a three decades’ long prison – to – school discrepancy of 668%, Texas “leads” the nation.

At the postsecondary level, the situation is even worse. Currently 18 states spend more on prisons and jails than on colleges and universities.

This robbing pupils to cage prisoners scenario is explained away by harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines combined with generalized broken windows policing that results in the working poor being herded into prisons and, even more, jails. In Houston, for example, 75% of those in jail are awaiting trial. They can’t afford to post bail, and so they sit behind bars. Their collective crime is poverty.

But there’s more to mass incarceration than “unfortunate” policy. There’s urban development. A recent federal report on the prison-instead-of-school pipeline notes, “Researchers at Columbia University found that a disproportionate number of the upwards of two million people in U.S. prisons and jails come from disadvantaged neighborhoods in the country’s biggest cities; the authors coined the term `million dollar blocks’ to refer to places where the concentration of incarcerated individuals is so dense that states are spending over a million dollars a year to incarcerate the residents of a single city block. Incarceration in the U.S. occurs disproportionately among people of color.”

Why invest in urban Black and Brown neighborhoods when you can ship resident bodies out of town, to failing predominantly White rural communities where land values have been forced to collapse and unemployment and precariousness reign? Follow the money. The fervid investment in prisons and jails at the expense of grade schools, colleges and universities is part of the overheated urban real estate market of “growing” and “redeveloping” cities. It’s the latest form of root shock where, thirty years ago, the racial politics of `blight’ as a form of `urban renewal’ became a targeted policy of no school left standing in Black and Brown neighborhoods, and no prison or jail cell left behind.

 

(Image Credit 1: Design4Peace) (Image Credit 2: Washington Post)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.