Petition: Tell Alabama to Spend Stimulus on Schools, Not Prisons

From: Change. org
by Matt Kelley December 23, 2010 

Federal education stimulus dollars are flowing into Alabama — but the biggest winner isn’t a school or college. It’s the prison system.

Alabama this year diverted $118 million in federal dollars orignally intended for education to instead pay for correctional officers’ salaries and benefits, prisoner health care and other corrections costs. I’m all for providing a safe, humane environment in prison, and Alabama certainly needs help in this arena — the state has the country’s most crowded prisons and spends the least per inmate. But pouring cash into a crowded prison system only perpetuates the cycle of incarceration. Alabama needs innovation to break free of the budget sinkhole of prison.

Alabama judges took a big step forward when they got together earlier this year to discuss how they can lead on promoting alternatives to incarceration in the state. But apparently politicians still aren’t getting the message, as they continue sinking millions of dollars into prisons –stealing the funds from poor, helpless little kindergartners. Won’t somebody please think about the children?

Please join me in urging incoming Alabama Governor Robert Bently to shift the state’s direction on prison spending, exploring innovations that will shrink prison budgets and populations while reducing crime and improving the state’s economy.
Diverting millions of dollars from education to corrections is admitting defeat. With poor schools and crowded prisons, Alabamians will continue to drop out of high school and travel the path to incarceration. Cutting-edge experiments in both education and criminal justice offer wise alternatives to this, and Alabama should earmark at least a few dollars for innovations aimed at reducing both crime and incarceration. By offering alternatives to incarceration and programs like substance abuse treatment and job counseling, Alabama could eliminate the root causes of crime and save money millions on its prisons as an added benefit.

I’ve written several times in this space about the work of UCLA Professor Mark Kleiman, who lays out convincing statistics and policy models showing that short, sure sentences reduce crime and save states millions. And Alabama’s new governor doesn’t even have to take this from lefties like me — Republican politicians and thinkers are pushing “smart on crime” these days, too.

Call on Gov.-elect Bently to take the lead on reducing prison overcrowding and wasteful spending by exploring alternatives to incarceration. It’s a political win-win for him and it’ll make Alabama safer and more productive.

Photo Credit: AMagill