Incarceration Over Education?

dreamstime_xs_22155154The harmful practices of America’s “war on drugs” have taken a toll on the lives of countless Americans, yet only recently has a new repercussion of the drug war come to light.

The yearly cost per incarcerated prisoner in many states far exceeds the yearly expense (per pupil) of educating students in public schools. With most states overburdened by swelling prison populations and unable to devote necessary resources to education, the country will have difficulty clawing its way out of the hole created by ‘drug war’ policies.

The growing number of incarcerated persons in American prisons is due to the ‘tough on drugs’ policies of the late 20th Century.  As Kathleen Miles of The Huffington Post points out, the number of inmates in prison for non-violent, drug-related offenses represents more than half of the American prison population. This number of incarcerated drug offenders has increased rapidly over the past half century – up from 16% in 1970.

The incarceration of drug offenders and the overall size of America’s prison population has caused a sharp and unsustainable increase.

The Congressional Research Service found that the total number of inmates in the federal prison population has increased from approximately 25,000 in 1980 to more than 219,000 in 2013 – an increase of 776%!

Filling prisons beyond capacity has cost American taxpayers approximately $1 trillion in tax dollars over the past four decades – all the while drug addiction rates have remained unchanged, the price of illegal drugs has dropped, and the purity of such drugs has generally increased.

Such tax dollars would be better spent on treatment and prevention programs, yet another consequence of the war on drugs demands nationwide attention: America’s youth are being robbed of vital educational resources.

An examination of state budgets revealed that most states appear to be “spending three to four times more per capita incarcerating prisoners than they are educating students.”  In California, research shows that the state “spends about $47,000 per inmate [annually] while only spending about $9,000 for every student enrolled.” In Texas, the discrepancy is less pronounced, but equally heinous – an average of $21,390 per inmate is spent annually compared to only $10,696 per public school student.

As the costs of overcrowded prison populations continue to precipitate at an exponential rate, it is difficult to stomach the thought of sacrificing budget resources traditionally devoted to areas such as education and health. To Tim Callahan, spokesperson for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, “the message is very clear…if we don’t have well-educated students who later in life may turn to crime, they’ll end up costing us twice as much as it would to educate a student.”

If only those ‘drug war’ advocates who for decades supported a burgeoning culture of incarceration would have displayed such foresight, the next generation of Americans would not find itself lacking a key component for future success.


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Gilbert Garcia has been Passionately Pursuing Justice for over 30 years and founded The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm in 2008. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is a boutique law firm, specializing in Criminal Defense. Gilbert represents adults and juveniles accused of a crime and who have with a felony, misdemeanor or record cleaning case. Conveniently located on the courthouse square to serve Montgomery and Walker Counties. Gilbert became Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1989. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is located at 220 N. Thompson St., Suite 202, Conroe, TX 77301.

Drug Related Charges may include: Possession of Marijuana, Possession of Controlled Substance, Possession of Dangerous Drug, Manufacturing a Dangerous Drug/Controlled Substance, Delivery or Intent to Deliver Marijuana/Dangerous Drug/Controlled Substance, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and many other drug related charges.