By Elizabeth English ,Ryann Roberts / @FortuneMagazine
The mounds of taxpayer dollars spend putting people behind bars take away from America’s investment in education.
It’s a fact that seems almost too mind-boggling to be true: The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prison population. In 2011, 716 out of every 100,000 American citizens were behind bars. Prisons are overcrowded, recidivism rates are high, and there are inadequate efforts to help ex-convicts, most of whom find themselves ill-equipped to meet the demands of the U.S. workforce – if they’re lucky enough to find work at all.
Our nation’s incarceration policies are in need of serious reform, and millennials need to drive the change. After all, young people, in particular, have a stake in the future of incarceration. The costs of the nation’s arcane and outdated incarceration policies have created two central burdens: First, there is a human cost of incarcerating a large and disproportionately underprivileged portion of the population. Men and women who committed nonviolent offenses and who otherwise could have a positive impact on society are instead in prison.
Second, there are financial burdens. In 2011, Eight states allocate more funding to prisons than their universities. California spent $1 billion more in 2012. Meanwhile 47 of 50 states spent less on higher education than they did in 2008. Our spending priorities are misguided when prisons receive more funding than colleges, universities, vocational schools and the like, particularly when a lot of that money goes to incarcerating non-violent offenders.