richard_burton.jpgAs the state of Florida, and the rest of America, continue to grapple with budget cuts, all aspects of corrections and prison costs continue to escalate. The state of Arizona spent more than nine percent of its general fund on corrections in fiscal year 2010.The money spent on corrections amounted to more than $900 million.  States that continue to lead Arizona in spending on corrections are Michigan, Oregon and Florida.

Angered and frustrated by cuts in funding for public school education for 2011-2012, parents, educators and community advocates across America have taken their protests to the streets and to the Internet to have their voices heard.  They, however, like some governors and lawmakers, remain silent on the issues of juvenile justice cuts and prison reform which could be a major way to help fund public education.

The side effects of incarceration compared to education: In the United States, youth of color caught in the crossfire of the war on drugs are frequently subjected to persecution, incarceration and denied access to educational opportunities. The irony is that the war on drugs is often defended as a necessary policy to protect the nation's young people.

In reality, rather than protecting youth, the drug war has resulted in the institutionalized persecution of black, Latino, Native American and poor young people. While more and more young men and women of color and the poor are being ushered into the criminal justice system under the guise of fighting drugs, resources for educating youth are diminishing and barriers to education restrict students with drug convictions from receiving higher education.

Youth of color bear the brunt of harmful drug policies, from arrest to prosecution to detention in correctional facilities. Some states now have the distinction of sending more black and Latino young people to prison than those graduating from state university programs yearly.

This legacy of discrimination in U.S. drug policy amplifies the growing gap in opportunities available to white youth and youth of color. In order to correct this discrepancy, policies must be enacted that make education a priority over incarceration. There must be an end to drug laws whose effect is to criminalize youth of color, racially discriminatory practices and barriers to education for youth who have been directed into the criminal justice system and away from school.

As many school districts  take a hard look at trimming their 2011-2012 budgets in the wake of state budget forecasts, it appears that legislators are pulling back on education funding and reform, which further boosts the prison industrial complex.

These types of actions speak to fundamentally flawed views regarding the importance of improving the nation's education system versus incarceration.

About 93,000 young people are held in juvenile justice facilities across the United States yearly.  Seventy percent of these youth are held in state-funded, post-adjudication, residential facilities at an average cost of $240.99 per day per youth, compared to $54 per student per day for public education. With states facing serious budgetary constraints, it is an opportune time for policymakers to consider ways to reduce juvenile justice spending that won't compromise public safety.

As a nation, we must examine the interconnection between public education and the growing prison-industrial complex if we truly feel that our children are important to the future of America.  Also, a national call to action is urgently needed on substantial prison reform, not just an exchange of ideas during this economic crisis. 

Richard P. Burton Sr. is director of PROJECT R.E.A.C.H. INC. ( based in Jacksonville. He may be reached