Budget Idea: Divert Money From Prisons to Schools
With a quarter of the world’s prisoners in American lockups, an unlikely coalition ranging from the NAACP to Americans for Tax Reform wonders if we might be smarter to divert some of that prison money to schools.Solving state and national budget woes is going to demand a painful set of decisions on where to carve out money — from public services, public safety, environmental protection? — no matter where legislators look.
But an unlikely coalition of organizations, including the NAACP, ACLU and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform,* is rallying around a common target: Why, they ask, are we spending so much money on prisons?
Over the last 40 years, America’s inmate population has quadrupled, from 500,000 to 2.3 million, giving the U.S. 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of its prisoners. The country now spends $70 billion a year — $50 billion of it at the state level — locking up all of these people, many of whom are nonviolent offenders snagged in the war on drugs.
The budget crisis represents a kind of perverse opportunity for prison reform, and those rallying together behind the idea now include both fiscal conservatives and social justice advocates. The NAACP last week released a report calling for states to divert money from incarceration to education. Norquist stood alongside the group supporting the idea, and potential conservative president candidate Newt Gingrich is on board as well.