One of the enduring social justice issues focuses on determining whether there are ways we can divert persons from the prison system, given that the United States has the highest prison rate in the World. The rate for the United States is 724 per 100,000, compared to 148 per 100,000 for England/Wales, 94 for Germany, 85 for France and 62 per 100,000 for Japan (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/uk/06/prisons/html/nn2page1.stm). Underlying this issue is the question regarding whether are there are some offenses where we can provide alternatives to prison as a way of helping persons get services they need. Prison or College: You Make the Choice To put the question another way, it is better to put someone in prison to send them to college. It cost twice as much to incarcerate someone in the federal prison as it would to pay for a years’ worth of college at a public college or University (See info graphic below)
Source: National Center for Education Statistics: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76 Average total tuition, fees, room and board rates charged for full-time undergraduate students – in 2012-2013 academic year- $15,022.. Federal Register- The fee to cover the average cost of incarceration for Federal inmates in Fiscal Year 2013 was $29,291.25. https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/05/12/2014-10859/annual-determination-of-average-cost-of-incarcerationPolicy Alternative to Prison An example of shifting public dollars to programming that promotes economic and social well being are programs that foster alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders. Two such policy initiatives are Proposition 47 (The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act) passed in California (2014) and House Bill 1176 passed in Georgia in 2012. These programs re-invest in local communities by creating prison diversion programs for minor offenses. In this case clients are sent to community substance abuse treatment programs, school truancy and dropout prevention programs. Comments on next steps in this direction While equity communities see this policy change as an important shift in how we are addressing the needs of the underserved, more support is needed to address structural community inequities in terms of fostering community driven economic and social development programs in addition to providing treatment for these clients. Based upon this policy, should also ask ourselves are there other ways we can re-align our resources to foster social and economic equity. Final thought Even in an era of fiscal austerity, there are ways to re-invest the public dollars into communities, the question is are we up for the challenge? Questions for Discussion
- Are there other examples of public programs that you think should be re-allocated in favor of investing in community programs?
- How can we make sure that programs such as this do not go away?