(SF Gate) During the budget debate, it became clear to me that something unthinkable has happened in California: Our fiscal meltdown has so distorted our legislative priorities that we are now a state that places a higher priority on prison than on higher education.
Last week, at the same time that the California State University’s Board of Trustees was approving drastic measures to manage unprecedented budget cuts, a tentative budget deal in the Legislature was unraveling because of outrage over cuts to California’s prison budget. How could the message to California students have been any clearer? You can cut higher education to the bone and you won’t hear a single statement of remorse from the Legislature, but start cutting into the prison budget and you’ll hear howls of protest from the Capitol.
It costs $49,000 per year to keep a prisoner behind bars in California. However, the state’s contribution per student at the CSU is just $4,600. This dichotomy is not just outrageous, it’s tragic. For such a relatively small amount of money, a young person could get a good education, secure a meaningful job and become a contributing member to the community and the economy. But instead of preserving this small investment in our young people, our leaders would rather spend 10 times as much to keep prisoners behind bars.
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