Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (5)

Robbing the Scholastic Peter to Pay for the Incarcerated Paul: The Show-Me State Showing Its Mulishness (5)

By Jon Marc Taylor

Is This the Perpetual End Game?

The result of this mulish criminal justice social-engineering policy is the present circumstance of public higher education in the Show-Me State. In 1977, the legislature provided 47 percent of the University of Missouri – Kansas City’s (UMKC) operating revenue. This year — before the proposed further 12.5 percent cut — a mere 15 percent of its budget is state-subsidized. In just the past three years, factoring in the governor’s proposed slashing budget cuts, the per-student appropriation at UHKC will have dropped from $9000 to $5700.    As a consequence, the Kansas City Star, with matter-of-fact reporting, observed that “students and their families will have to shoulder [an ever] larger part of university revenue through tuition checks.”

There is an old saw where one does more and more with less and less, until eventually one can do everything with nothing. Is this the inevitable outcome for higher education in the Show-Me State? Will “public” colleges and universities be such literally in name only, because state allocations eventually will only cover the costs of signage and stationery?

During the process of this composition, the blowback from the proposed budget cut was vitriolic enough that the governor reduced his proposed cut from $106 million (i.e., 12.5%) to $66 million. Thus, instead of state higher education suffering a 32 percent budget cut over the previous four years, it shall instead have to weather only a 29 percent funding reduction. Moreover, with the continued funding reductions since 2007, the ratio between the budget allocations for higher education and corrections has shrunk even further, until factoring in the proposed education cutbacks, the Show-Me State will be spending 75 cents to 80 cents for every dollar invested in higher education. In other words, a ratio that is half to twice as much as Illinois and Kansas allocate, achieving the same public safety outcome with their correction systems.

The Show-Me State’s well-established trend of slicing and dicing the higher education budget to finance its homegrown prison-industrial complex will eventually result in the dubious distinction of spending more state money to imprison the populous than educate them.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Unlike Diogenes carrying his lamp in daylight, futilely searching for an honest man, the solution to this accumulating academic catastrophe is easy to identify: Just reverse the policies that created the tottering asinine tragedy in the first place. Reform the state’s criminal justice policies to reflect realistic needs and expectations.

Such reform would constitute three broad facets: (1) recognition and education, (2) substantive penal population reductions, and (3) redistributing the flow of correctional dollars back into the investment of higher education from whence the funding was originally diverted.

First: Reform must begin with the political recognition that the problem exists. A bipartisan task force could provide acknowledgment of the crisis, expose the true opportunity costs of the present policies, and provide the political protection necessary for reforms to be enacted. By acting rationally, with the long-term social welfare of the commonwealth in mind, the politicians can campaign on being “smart on crime rather than “futilely tough on us all.”

Other states are acting similarly. New York and Michigan, for example, have modified or abolished their draconian mandatory drug laws. Yet other states are increasingly issuing paroles, with those who had abolished such altogether moving towards their reinstitution. While recidivism rates nationally have increased to 50 percent of all offenders being re-incarcerated within three years of their release,    only 20 percent of paroled long-serving prisoners however are similarly rearrested.  Additionally, released lifers are no more likely to be rearrested for violent offenses than paroled property or drug offenders.

The results of these types of reforms can already be evaluated by looking at New York’s example. Over the past two decades, as the nation collectively increased its use of incarceration by 65 percent, New York decreased its use of imprisonment by 28 percent. By changing policing, sentencing, and rehabilitative/reintegration services, the homicide rates in New York City dropped by 😯 percent, robbery rates decreased by 83 percent, and burglaries dropped by 86 percent. The demand for expensive prison bed space declined so much that the state has closed two prisons, and portions of others.