Let’s say you’re in charge of a state, say a state like Georgia, and you are deciding on budgets. What makes more sense to invest in: prisons or schools?
Maybe you’d look at the overwhelming evidence that investing in quality education — from preschool through college — has significant benefits. Better school performance, better economic opportunities later in life, as well as better health outcomes are all linked to greater access to quality education.
Notably, increasing the graduation rate also reduces crime and incarceration rates.
Investing in prisons, however, just puts more people behind bars, and more money in the pockets of private corrections companies.
Unfortunately, Georgia has seen fit to invest more in prisons than schools over the past few decades.
According to a new report from the Dept. of Education, Georgia has increased spending on prisons by a whopping 468 percent, while spending on pre-k through 12 education has only increased by 224 percent. In part, this is because we’ve more than tripled our prison population, which significantly outpaces state population growth.
The AJC notes that the state of Georgia has done some work on prison reform, in particular around increasing access to education for folks who are locked up:
Georgia has recognized the problem, and has embarked on various justice overhauls, including the establishment of charter schools in prisons, starting with one at Arrendale State Prison for women near Gainesville and another at Burruss Correctional Training Center for men in Middle Georgia.
However, ultimately educating people once they are already incarcerated does not address the systemic reasons folks in Georgia can’t get a good education in the first place. It also doesn’t address the disproportionate impact debtors prison and minimum sentencing policies have on people of color.
Perhaps if you were in charge you’d make different decisions. Resources going to manage our state’s declining, but still massive, prison population could be directed to public schools, rural hospitals and community centers.
We’d see fewer people locked up — separated from their families and communities, facing the lifelong consequences and stigma of having a record — and more investment in the resources, like public schools, that make our communities stronger, better and safer.
Too bad that won’t be happening under this state’s current leadership.