New York State: 700 Million Dollars Pumped into Prisons; 600 Million Slashed from Colleges Since 1988, Study Says

More African Americans and Latinos Go "Upstate" to Prison than to College:

Young People of Color, Non-Violent Offenders Hardest Hit by Growing Trade-Off

NEW YORK, NY -While New York State's prison spending has grown by $761.3 million over the last ten years, state allocations for state and city colleges in New York have been slashed by $615 million, resulting in an almost dollar for dollar trade-off, according to a Rockefeller Foundation-funded study to be released December 1 by the Correctional Association of New York and the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), a Washington, DC-based think-tank.

People of color and non-violent offenders have been hardest hit by the state's shifting priorities - which result, in part, from the 1973 Rockefeller Drug Laws that introduced harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws for drug offenders - says the study,

New York's State of Mind: Higher Education vs. Prison Funding in the Empire State, 1988-1998.

More African Americans have entered prison for drug offenses than have graduated from State University of New York (SUNY) every year since 1989, according to the study, and almost twice as many Latinos were locked up for drug offenses as graduated from SUNY in 1997. More than 62 percent of people sent to New York prisons last year were convicted of non-violent offenses, with drug offenders accounting for 47 percent of convictions. "This study spotlights a counterproductive shift in government priorities that has had a devastating impact on young people of color - and completely failed to make New York safer," said Robert Gangi, Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York and co-author of the study. "The money we spend locking up non-violent drug offenders would be better spent educating those young people in New York's universities."

Each prisoner in the New York prison system costs taxpayers $30,000 -enough to pay tuition fees for nine students at SUNY or City University of New York (CUNY), the study found. Hikes in tuition fees - which have doubled at CUNY since 1988 - have disproportionately affected families of color, it notes, with current fees at SUNY representing 25 percent of the median income for white families, but 42 percent of the median income for African American and Latino families. "Locking up a generation of people of color is not the way to cut crime,'' said Vincent Schiraldi, Executive Director of JPI. "It's time for state policy makers to revoke the Rockefeller Drug Laws and invest in educating, not incarcerating, young people.''

A study conducted by JPI in California this September yielded similar results. For every African American male enrolled in a California publicuniversity, the study found, five are in prison. For every three Latino males in the CA prison system, one is in college.