"The good news is that public investment can work. The bad news is that better choices must be made. We need to distinguish between prisons for crime control and prisons as a jobs program, between building for the future and building for the past.
Forty-one states have already reported budget problems for the current or upcoming fiscal year, and it's likely to get worse. States are starting to cut benefits and services ranging from health care to public schools and early childhood education.
But one budget item is never questioned: prisons.
Even as states spend nearly $50 billion on prisons every year and counties spend over $20 billion on jails, we build additional locked capacity. Even with U.S. incarceration rates at seven times historical and international norms, we build. Even as crime continues on its 15-year descent to levels not seen in 40 years, we find money to build even more.
The sacrifices we make to build these prisons are astonishing. Between 1987 and 2007, state spending on prisons increased by 40 percent (as a percent of the general fund). State spending on higher education decreased by 30 percent. We are financing our prisons by cutting our colleges."