Oregon Spends Nearly Four Times More on Incarceration than Higher Education
Tuesday, January 05, 2016
According to a study entitled Public Research Universities: Changes in State Funding, published by the American Academy for Arts and Sciences, Oregon spends $204 million in higher education each year, only fifth from the bottom in the United States. Meanwhile, the state spends nearly four times that, $802 million in total, on corrections.
SEE SLIDES BELOW: See the States That Spend More on Incarceration than Higher Education
That gives them the second largest disparity in the country, trailing only Michigan and leading Arizona, Vermont and Colorado in the top five. According to the Academy, the lack of funding can have major impacts on the U.S. and state economy in the future.
“The number of students who take degrees in the humanities provides one of the most fundamental indicators of the state of the field,” the Academy said. “Large changes in the numbers of those who choose undergraduate humanities majors can affect the ecology of higher education while an increase or decrease in the number of those completing advanced degrees in the humanities may signal tight job markets for new Ph.D.’s or warn of future shortages of teachers.”
Too Much Money for Prisons?
The Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, a prison and criminal justice reform group, lists the issue of prison spending as one of its top priorities. They seek to change the current system in Oregon, which spends more than $36,000 to incarcerate one prisoner, and throughout the country.
The Partnership for Safety and Justice is also calling for a decrease in the amount of money spent on prisons. The group fights for a decrease in crime and a change in the way the criminal justice system is funded.
In an interview with GoLocal, Shannon Wight, Vice President of the Partnership for Safety and Justice, said that recent actions taken by the State of Oregon to cut prison spending should be only the beginning.
“Prison funding should be reduced, and Oregon has begun a thoughtful process of doing just that,” Wight said. “Oregon needs to build on the modest reforms we passed in 2013 and 2015 and identify more significant reforms to reduce the number of people under correctional control in our state.”
Wight pointed to mental health crisis in Oregon and said reformers and those in power should be careful to avoid a similar disaster.
“We need to be smart about how we do that and make sure we don’t create a crisis like the one that happened when we closed state mental health institutions but never invested in the community-based services that were supposed to replace them,” Wight explained. “Oregon’s Justice Reinvestment Act was a first step in the right direction, but it’s time to go deeper. The most recent prison forecast indicated that we could have to open a new prison unit this Spring. Even if that doesn’t happen – and we hope it won’t - clearly the 2013 reforms didn’t go far enough if we are that close to opening a prison unit just two years later.”
Spending for Higher Education Crucial
Business leaders told GoLocal that more spending for schools is crucial, especially given Oregon’s issues with education.
"First and foremost, we need to improve the reputation of our education system," John Taponga, President of ECONorthwest, told GoLocal.
In order to do so, groups like the Partnership for Safety and Justice recommend taking a closer look at funding for education and incarceration.
“A few years ago Pew did a similar analysis and what we learned from that is that it’s important to note is how much of our general fund we are spending on corrections vs education,” Wight said. “Certainly as a state we want to emphasize education over incarceration if we want to see the state, and its residents, thrive.”
Wight cautioned, however, that spending should be shifted gradually to avoid taking important resources away from those already serving time behind bars.
“It’s important to remember that we can’t just spend less on prison and put all that money into schools right away,” Wight said. “We have to thoughtfully reduce the number of people in our correctional systems by evaluating who should be under correctional control and who shouldn’t; who should instead be receiving help from mental health or addiction services and who can be held accountable without doing prison time. Counties need the state investment to do that work effectively.”
Related Slideshow: See the States That Spend the Most on Incarceration vs Higher Education
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