In all the talk recently about the appalling numbers on American prison populations, one thing has become clear: prisons are a huge resources drain. The Detroit Free Press took up the issue the other day in an editorial. The paper (rightly) notes the human toll of our prison addiction. But more interestingly, the paper takes on the financial cost:
States can no longer afford to divert so many resources from education, health care and other pressing needs. Michigan, for example, with one of the nation’s highest incarceration rates, spends $2 billion a year on corrections, or 20% of its general fund. It is one of four states spending more on corrections than higher education. In today’s economy, spending more on prisons than college is a recipe for failure.
Since it doesn’t seem that any of the other arguments get us anywhere in terms of prison policy, why not try this one? At a time when our economy is tanking, when we spend bazillions on the war, and when people (or at least many people) really want the state to put more resources into health care and education, why are we spending so much to warehouse young men and women, particularly men and women of color? SEems to me it’s time for us to start speaking a little louder when we ask that question.