Defunding Prisons Will Cost California

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The University of California is the world's premiere public university system. This elite status is in grave danger however, due to the significant budget deficit facing the state of California. State funding to the university between 2008 and 2010 will be reduced by a total of $813 million dollars. Consequently, students will face a 32 percent increase in fees by the summer of 2010, an increase in class size, a decrease in enrollment acceptance and fewer areas of study from which to choose.

Prisons and the university compete for the same pool of discretionary funding, hence the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is also in a serious funding crisis in addition to having a growing prison population. The state of California currently houses 172,000 inmates in 100,000 spaces, an increase in inmate numbers of 617 percent since 1980. Further, taxpayers spend $47,000 per year per inmate and $10,000 to prosecute felony offenders.

California has a 70 percent rate of recidivism/reincarceration, the highest in the nation. Reducing the rate of recidivism by 5 percent would save the state of California approximately $404 million dollars, an amount equal to half the reductions facing the University of California. In order to achieve two mutually desirable outcomes: a reduction in recidivism and the restoration of funding to the university, I propose we establish educational partnerships between the university and prisons. Countless studies have independently established that education is the single most effective method for reducing recidivism. In a report sent to Congress, the National Institute of Justice stated that, "education is far more effective at reducing recidivism than boot camps, shock incarceration, or vocational training." A tri-state study that monitored the rate of re-incarceration of 3600 prisoners found that inmates receiving any education while imprisoned reduced reincarceration by 29 percent. A study completed in 2002 in Texas demonstrated that up to eight years post-release, recidivism decreased from 43 percent to 27.2 percent for inmates who earned an associate's degree. Recidivism was further reduced to 7.8 percent for inmates who obtained a bachelor's degree. Strikingly, in another study, which followed inmates for two years post-parole, 0 percent of inmates returned to incarceration if they attained a master's degree. Similar results were obtained in studies completed in Alabama, Indiana, New York and Wisconsin.

Prison education programs became rare after 1994, when the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was enacted. This legislation prevented incarcerated persons from receiving Pell Grant funding, effectively closing 350 prison education programs. In order to minimize the devastating effects of this bill on California, a professor from UC Davis founded a volunteer-based college program, in collaboration with Patten College and prison instructors, to educate the inmates at San Quentin in 1996. The program has evolved into the non-profit Prison University Project (PUP), in which approximately 70 graduate-level and above volunteer instructors, teaching assistants, tutors and interns from Bay Area universities offer twelve academically-certified classes per semester, ranging from rigorous English- and math-preparatory instruction to

courses in social science, humanities and science. Approximately 200 men enroll each semester. To date, 68 inmates have earned associate's degrees, while many more who were released prior to graduation continue their education at community colleges and universities.

Due to the current budget crisis, the California Department of Corrections has been forced to implement "population reassignment", which means that one-third of the students who are enrolled in PUP may be or have already been transferred. PUP is the only program of its kind in California. One transferee wrote, "Sure there is a lot more freedom to move around and there are not bars and concrete but I'd rather be in a dungeon with access to education than on a sunny prison yard with nothing to do but exercise If I had to define what rehabilitation in prison is, it would be the Prison University Project "

The primary goal of this proposal is to identify a funding source that would maintain the University of California as the nation's foremost public university system through establishing non-profit, volunteer education programs at prisons using PUP as the model. If we continue to ignore recidivism, approximately 119,000 prisoners will return to incarceration, taxpayers will continue to spend over $8.5 billion dollars on corrections and the university will have to compromise its reputation of excellence. Now is the time to support a proven program with both noble and practical goals: saving the University of California and giving hope to men and women who are committed to turning their lives for the better.


Nicole Meyer-Morse is a UC Berkeley alumnus at [email protected]



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