The criminal justice system is "stealing" dollars away from public education, according to a study by the national Center on Institutions and Alternatives (NCIA), an Alexandria, Virginia-based criminal justice research organization. "We're trading textbooks for prison cells," a NCIA representative said in releasing the report. "But the more money we throw at the criminal justice system, the more it fails."
American cities now spend 20 percent more on law enforcement than on education, NCIA found. In 1968-69, city spending per capita for criminal justice was $27, compared to $34 for education. By 1988-89, the priorities had reversed; cities spend $130 per capita on criminal justice, and $106 for education.
A similar situation was found at the county level, where criminal justice overtook education in appropriations in 1982. By 1988, the gap had grown to 52 billion; criminal justice funding exceeded education funding by approximately 12 percent.
At the federal level, the government cut its aid to education by more than 35 percent between 1979 and 1989, while increasing its criminal justice spending by 29 percent in constant (inflation-adjusted) dollars, NCIA said.
The study was based on figures from the U.S Bureau of the Census, the National Association of State Budget Officers, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, and other sources. The author of the report, George Washington University Professor William J. Chambliss, argued that " the criminal justice system as a means of coping with the problem of crime is an utter failure," and that "education, more than any other factor, reduces crime."
But politicians find it easier to cut education funding than criminal justice funding he said, citing examples where local officials tried to reduce police budgets but backed down after police unions raised fears about public safety.
The report, Trading Textbooks for Prison Cells, is available from the NCAI, 635 Slaters Lane, Suite G-100, Alexandria, VA 22314.
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