Sunday, February 19, 2012

“Good Citizens Begin in the Classroom"

I. Introduction:

As Americans we are constantly reinforced to believe that through hard work, sacrifice and personal effort we control our own destiny.  George Washington bequeathed part of his estate to create a system of schooling that would "do away with local attachments and state prejudices." James Madison acknowledged in the Federalist Papers that we need to develop a new kind of citizen through our schools. Unless we could educate citizens and leaders who could rise above personal ambition and special interest to seek the common good, our new republic would fail as had all prior republics in history. But increasingly, the fundamental institutions of American society function unfairly, restricting access and opportunity for millions of people. The greatest example of this is the present-day criminal justice system.

II. Incarceration:
In 2010, a panel of federal judges ordered California to cut its prison population by more than 40,000 inmates because the medical facilities are so horrific that it violates the inmates' constitutional rights.

In PA, Graterford's Correction Facility is so overcrowded; some of the inmates are transferred to serve their time in New Jersey and Michigan’s penal system. Overcrowded prisons are not a phenomena, but a steady increase of new inmates and repeat offenders in America is cause for great concern.

In 2009 more than 82% of males that are incarcerated in the U.S. are African Americans ages ranging from as young as 16 years old - 36 years old.  Furthermore, the rate of incarceration for African Americans is significantly higher than for the overall prison population of Latinos, Native Americans, Caucasians, Asians, and Mexicans. In fact, in 2008, 1 out of every 9 African American men between the ages of 20 years old and 34 years old was behind bars. For African American  women ages 18 years old to 39 years old, 1 in 100 is imprisoned, compared with 1 in 355 Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and Caucasian women of the same age.

What are the practical political consequences of the mass incarceration of more than 2,300,000 Americans? In New York State, for example, the prison populations play a significant role in how some state legislative districts are drawn up. In New York’s 45th senatorial district, located in the extreme northern corner of upstate New York, there are 13 state prisons, with 14,000 prisoners, all of whom are counted as residents. Prisoners in New York are disenfranchised unable to vote and yet their numbers help to create a Republican state senatorial district. These “prison districts” as they are called now exist all over the United States.  

The most despicable paradox of the national compulsion to incarcerate has been the deliberate criminalization of African American youth and adolescents with the construction of a “school-to-prison pipeline” or the rise of "incarceration over education: the new racket." Even the states where crime is evaporating--the numbers of imprisoned continue to grow.

What is hauntingly disturbing is that the United States is the world leader in the rate at which it convicts and places its citizens behind bars. An analysis using state-by-state data concluded a record 2,319,258 Americans were in jail or imprisoned at the start of 2008. In essence, 1 out of every 96 adult Americans is incarcerated. The aforementioned data estimates that those numbers will double by 2012.

According to the Pew Center, a record increase in financial support for incarceration, with the 50 U.S. states spending more than $49 billion on prisons in 2007, five times more than the $11 billion spent more than 20 years ago. California alone will spend more than $7 billion on 9, 000 new correction facilities for 2009-2010, although California has one of the biggest financial deficits in America.

In 2008, the rate of increase for prison costs last year was six times higher than the rate of increase for public schools and higher education spending. There is a higher premium on promoting prison life rather than education.

In 2009 with many of America's states feeling the effect of the recession and budget shortfalls, the increased spending for prisons and jails has led to a disproportionate decrease in spending on education and other social needs that would aid in preventing the increase of prison rolls.

Further, state after state is reducing its investments in education, while expanding its expenditures in correctional facilities. Today, for the first time in recent history, Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, Oregon, and Vermont there are spending more state money on prisons than on public colleges. The unfortunate reality is there are those of us that would rather incarcerate than educate.

III. Addressing the issue:
  • The first 2/3 of a prisoner's prison sentence, she/he is doing labor daily in the prisons.
  • For the last 1/3 of his/her time, she/he is in an education and training program five days a week learning basic skills and advanced skills. Life skills need to be built into that training as well.
  • When the prison sentence is completed, the ex-offender will spend 2 years doing either community service at an assigned location or depending on age, join the military for 2 years with full military benefits.  
  • For every $1.00 that is spent to build a prison in the U.S., $5.00 will be spent on the construction of a new innovative public school.
  • By 2020, the United States will cease the construction of future prisons for approximately 15 years, after which an evaluation will be conducted on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of eliminating the construction of new prisons.
  •  By 2025, all public schools in the United States will have no less than 15 students and no more than 20 students per classroom.
  • Eliminate the "No Child Left Behind" Act and reallocate the federal funding that's been used to promote its implementation to low performing public schools and construction of new innovative education programs to increase students academic and social progression.
  • By 2015, public and after schools funding will henceforth no longer be cut or reduced from budgets at the local, state and federal level.

IV. Final Analysis:

Conversely, Horace Mann, the father of public education, said it well: "The spread of education, by enlarging the cultivated class or caste, will open a wider area over which the social feelings will expand; and, if this education should be universal and complete, it would do more than all things else to obliterate factitious distinctions in society."

Anthony P. Johnson, Candidate for State Representative- PA District 180

No comments:

Post a Comment