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June 29, 2013


A few years ago a study showed that it cost more to house a prisoner than it would to give him/her a Harvard education. Since then other studies have shown that some states spend more on jails and prisons than they do on education! That is not the case anywhere else in First World countries.

Yet other studies show a direct correlation between the number of years finished in school and the likelihood of incarceration. Those who are better educated go to prison far less often than those who are not. The federal government and especially the states have been on a multi-billion dollar frenzy in building new prisons. More guards and other prison personnel are necessary as greater and greater numbers of Americans are jailed. Prosecutors and police are overworked; court dockets are clogged; speedy trial requirements force prosecutors to wheel and deal with defense counsel in copping pleas. The whole idea of justice is subverted as our public pocketbook also takes a big hit – a double whammy.

At first blush the jailbird vs. Harvard comparative cost doesn’t sound so bad – until you further note that the United States leads the world by far in per capita jailing of our populace. No other country even comes close. Some of that is attributable to harsh punishment for crimes that in other countries would be misdemeanors or even mere civil infractions (e.g., pot smoking etc.), but that controversy is beyond the scope of this essay. Suffice it to say here that incarceration for minor offenses is a very expensive proposition, so expensive that one begins to think in terms of alternatives, like spending more money from the beginning on food, rent subsidies and especially education so that these miscreants don’t show up in the paddy wagon and a super-expensive prison cell you and I have to pay for.

This is one of those situations where if you want to save money, you have to spend some. Consider that these people in prison, had they been educated either academically or vocationally, might as valuable employees (or even employers) be sending tax money INTO our (and their) treasury instead of taking money OUT of our (and their) treasury. I read recently that those with vocational skills could name their price in today’s market; that there are shortages in skilled trades; that some welders were demanding and being paid $50 an hour. That is over $100,000 a year. People who make that kind of money are not likely to show up in the paddy wagon (that costs you and me big money). They are more likely to be paying taxes and buying goods and services in this economy (which stimulates aggregate demand and reduces unemployment as a result), a win-win situation directly traceable to our investment in their future from early on. So have we saved money by cutting “welfare” budgets? Quite the contrary – It is clear that we need more and better-targeted welfare programs for poor and undereducated Americans if we are going to save money, great and pompous legislative pronouncements to the contrary notwithstanding (which only proves that politicians are neither pragmatists nor economists).

Children from crime and dope- decimated neighborhoods who go to school hungry cannot effectively learn at a competitive rate with children, for instance, who live in Orange County, California. They are necessarily in survival mode in their unsafe neighborhoods and “soccer moms” are few and far between. To expect such children to test out competitively with Orange County children under any federal or state set of standards is ludicrous, almost as ludicrous as firing their teachers as “ineffective.” This is another area that is in need of specific targeting if we are to SAVE money. More is coming; stay tuned.  GERALD E

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