Ohio’s Spending Priorities Criticized

Toledo Blade - August 28, 2002
   

Prison funds outpace college aid, study says
By Joe Mahr

The Toledo Blade

Ohio prisons added about 17,000 African-American men over two decades, but
its four-year colleges added fewer than 500 – a ratio that a think tank said is
second worst in the nation.

The data come from a national report released today by a Washington think tank,
Justice Policy Institute. The institute argues that prison systems are overused to
solve social issues.

The report titled “Cellblocks or Classrooms?” said that states have increased
prison spending by $20 billion from 1985 to 2000 – a 166 percent increase after
inflation. Higher education spending rose to $10 billion – only a 24 percent boost.

The cash has been flowing heavier in Ohio, where a prison building boom led the
prison system s budget to increase 211 percent. Money for higher education rose
38 percent, according to the institute s data.

Ohio s ratio of college spending to prison spending dropped accordingly. For
every $1 spent on prisons in 1985, 74 cents went to higher education. In 2000,
every $1 to prisons elicited only 40 cents for colleges.

The think tank argues that the shift in budget priorities correlates with the plight of
African-American males.

In 2000, the nation s prison systems housed an estimated 460,000 more black
males than in 1980, while four-year colleges enrolled just 140,000 more black
males. That s a ratio of three additional black inmates for every additional black,
four-year college student, according to the report.

In Ohio, the rate is much worse – 38-to-1 – second only to Alaska, at 78-to-1.
“I think it s a sad commentary on how [Ohio] has chosen to spend money on
African-American men, and hopefully things can be done to change that,” Jason
Ziedenberg, an institute spokesman, said.

The institute worked with a Cleveland-based think tank, Policy Matters Ohio, to
help compile the report.

Amy Hanauer, executive director of Policy Matters, said it s clear Ohio has fallen
into a budgetary rut at a time when states must focus more money on higher
education to compete in the evolving, global economy.

“We’re really letting policy choices steer us instead of letting us steer the policy
choices,” she said. “We re just passive observers of this phenomenon instead of
stopping and saying, Is this really how we want to spend the money? “

Ohio’s average public tuition has consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally
because Ohio historically has not funded higher education as much as other
states.

Before the latest round of state tuition hikes, Ohio s public, four-year tuition
averaged 39 percent more than the national average. Among Ohio s border
states, only Pennsylvania s was higher.

Because it costs about $20,000 a year to house the average Ohio prison inmate, the think tanks argue that the money is better spent covering the tuition of four students. And there s some agreement from Marv West, the executive director of the Ohio Commission on African-American Males.

“The dollars are going to be spent either way, so where is it best to spend those
dollars – incarceration or education?” he said.

Ms. Hanauer said her group is not affiliated with backers of a controversial
proposed constitutional amendment that would force the state to give drug
treatment, instead of jail time, to first and second-time nonviolent drug offenders.

But, she said, she believes that the state could stop imprisoning nonviolent, drug
offenders without hurting public safety, and the cost savings could provide more
money for colleges.

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