Colleges or Prisons?
Economic future: Colleges or prisons?
The State of California is facing a crisis that may well determine our economic future for decades. State funding for higher education is in direct competition for dollars with a vastly expanded state prison system. What have been the contributions of these two quite different components of state spending?
With the completion of the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960, the state began an era of unparalleled economic growth. Public support for higher education built university and college campuses that provided access to all who could benefit from higher education. Qualified students were guaranteed access to higher education in community colleges, The California State University, and The University of California.
Many of my generation (myself included) obtained associate degrees, bachelor's degrees, and advanced degrees in law, medicine, engineering, and science. The economy flourished as well-educated individuals entered California's workforce. Those college and university graduates contributed to the economic vitality of the computer industry, agriculture, and advancements in health care.
It is now clear that continued access to higher education opportunities for California's next generation of college students is in direct competition with the state's prison system for public dollars. The CSU and UC systems receive about $9,000 per year per enrolled full-time student. The cost of incarcerating an individual for a year in the prison system is over $50,000 per year.
Are taxpayers of the state really willing to spend more than five times as much per prisoner as it costs to keep a student on a college or university campus for a year?
Both the Legislature and the governor have failed to address this critical problem. Indeed, there is great concern that California's prisons may be taken over by federal courts because of overcrowding, poor medical care, and other substandard conditions.
Such a takeover would results in costs to the state rising dramatically above the $10 billion per year now spent on state prisons. Local costs could also skyrocket if proposals to return prisoners to county jails were put in place. The governor has recently proposed that some offenders be released early and that other prisoners be shipped to private prisons outside California at vastly increased costs to the state.
A recent Little Hoover Commission report (www.lhc.ca.gov/lhc) recommends that criminal sentencing standards be examined critically. State sentencing guidelines have resulted in longer sentences at higher cost without reducing crime rates.
Other states have recently have been imposing longer sentences on truly violent offenders while reducing sentences for non-violent offenders, resulting in reduced costs for prisons. Currently, California prisons house 86,000 inmates doing time for non-violent crimes out of a total prison population of 171,000. Building new prisons will take many years and is unlikely to address the real problem of unrealistic sentencing guidelines.
It is time to examine critically how our state funds are allocated to
insure a safe, secure, and prosperous future for ourselves and our children.
We must restore to higher education the top priority for funding that will
bring economic prosperity to all Californians.
Milton Boyd is a retired faculty member who taught at HSU for 34 years.
He resides in Arcata.
Opinions expressed in My Word pieces do not necessarily reflect the
editorial viewpoint of the Times-Standard.
Three Strikes Legal - Index