Misplaced Priorities?

Written by Amanda Cote

On May 24, 2011

In a recently issued report called “Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate”, the NAACP tracks the steady shift of funds away from education and toward the criminal justice system.  Here a just a few items of interest from the report:

  • Over the last two decades, as the criminal justice system came to assume a larger proportion of state discretionary dollars nationwide, state spending on prisons grew at six times the rate of state spending on higher education.
  • The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color, people with mental health issues and drug addiction, people with low levels of educational attainment, and people with a history of unemployment or underemployment.
  • In several of the communities studied (Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston), there was a spatial relationship between “high-incarceration communities” and “low-performing schools”.

What does that mean locally?  According to data from justiceatlas.org, here’s some related 2008 data from the two zip codes served by CPN (29403 and 29405):

  • In 2008, there were 1,012 incarcerations in Charleston County.  Although there are 25 zip codes included in the County, 43% of all prison admissions came from just the 29403 and 29405 zip codes combined.
  • Based on estimated terms of imprisonment, the cost for those imprisoned in 2008 in 29403/29405 zip codes is about $12.6 million.
  • In 29405 zip code, 44.7% of household had income of less than $25K.  In 29403, it was 53.9% in 2008.
  • More than 37% of all households in both zip codes were headed by single parents.
  • More than 70% of residents were African-American or Hispanic.
  • Unemployment was 10.8% in 29405 and 11.8% in 29403, which was more than double the County-wide rate of 5.3% in 2008.

We also know that:

  • Our four CPN elementary schools are among the highest poverty, lowest-achieving schools in the County.
  • Last fall, at North Charleston High School, 49% of ninth graders showed up last Fall reading on a fourth grade level or below.
  • The Charleston County School District is facing a $28 Million deficit for the 2011-2012.

What do you think?  Are our priorities misplaced?