Across the country, the NAACP is actively pushing state governments to spend less on incarceration and more on education. Taking its efforts to the next level, the century-old civil rights group is releasing a report today entitled, “Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incercerate.” Led by the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Department, the effort focuses on the correlation between under-education and the mass incerceration of people of color.
Misplaced Priorities tracks the steady shift of state funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system. Researchers found that over-incarceration most impacts vulnerable, often minority populations, and that it destabilizes communities. The report offers recommendations that would help policymakers downsize prison populations and shift the savings to education budgets.
The effort is part of the NAACP’s “Smart and Safe Campaign,” an initiative designed to reform the nation’s criminal justice system.
Today’s press conference will feature representatives of law enforcement and a growing bipartisan coalition calling on state lawmakers to rethink decades-old criminal justice policies. In addition to NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, speakers will include:
- Rod Paige, former Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush
- Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform;
- David Keene, former Chairman of the American Conservative Union and “of counsel” with The Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental affairs firm;
- Pat Nolan, of Prison Fellowship, who worked with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich to establish the conservative Right On Crime coalition;
- Mike Jimenez, a member of the executive committee of Corrections USA, which represents 80,000 corrections officers nationwide, as well as president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association;
- Mitchell Kapor, philanthropist and founder of Lotus 1-2-3;
- Lindsay McCluskey, President of the United States Student Association.
Speaking of the impetus for the report, Jealous says, “We’re at a point in this country where people of all colors, who make up 5% of the world’s population, are 25% of the world’s prisoners. It’s often said that black people in this country are incarcerated at a higher rate than black people in South Africa at the height of apartheid. What’s not said is that it’s more than four times higher.”
He went on to note that “incarceration is short-circuiting the lives of black people in numerous ways.”
There’s a real serious need to focus on the impact of race on incarceration. What’s more, we have to take a closer look at the ways in which incarceration undermines social and economic opportunities.
“It’s about keeping the pipeline open at each stage. So people have the opportunity to be able to educated, they have the opportunity to have great jobs; they have the opportunity to start a business and actually have large scale corporate customers, and government customers, and customers overseas,” said Jealous. If people are incarcerated, they miss the opportunities they need to grow and flourish in our current economy.
The solution? A change in the status quo, perhaps; a re-engagment around critical discussions about civil rights and liberties, such as those related to under-education and over incarceration.
“Young people have to be taught, and they have to be taught how to fight. Our generation was the first told not to fight,” said Jealous. “The generation above us really won the civil rights victories, our parents, our grandparents. And they turned to us and they said – a bit naievely – ‘all the great victories have been won; we killed Jim Crow, so your job is to go out, study hard, play by the rules and get rich.’ You will be the first generation to be judged by the content of your character, not the color of your skin.”
Despite the battles fought and won by our predecessors, Jealous noted that “We came of age just in time to find ourselves the most incarcerated generation on the planet; the most murdered generation in the country.”
“This generation is the third generation to grow up in what we call the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said, “and it’s their job to ensure that it ends with them.” To help the current generation buck the damning trend of over incarceration, the NAACP is releasing this report as a next step in advancing policy discussions around this critical issue.