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This article is reprinted from the September 2012 issue of San Quentin News

Michigan’s economic growth is in jeopardy because of fewer college graduates and disproportionate spending on prisons, instead of universities, says a new report.
“Our public universities are a major driver of Michigan’s economy yet we are spending more on a prisoner in one year than we are to help a Michigan student go to college for four years,” said Doug Rothwell, president and CEO of Business Leaders for Michigan (BLM). “This investment strategy is upside down if we want to attract business investment and good-paying jobs.”

UNEVEN PLAYING FIELD

By 2018, 62 percent of jobs in Michigan will require a post-secondary education, according to a BLM turnaround plan. “The best-paying jobs will move away or never be created. This is due to Michigan state law giving preference to prison budget cuts over university budgets, making it an uneven playing field which results in universities suffering deeper cuts to their budgets.”
The report says special interest groups like prison guard unions and private prison corporations lobby for lengthy sentencing laws and strict parole policies. The study shows Michigan imprisons 51 percent more of its residents than its neighboring states and spends more money per prisoner per year to keep prisoners incarcerated.

TOUGH LAWS

Moreover, other studies have shown those states with large and influential guard unions have large prison populations, according to Zimring, Franklin E. Gorden J. Hawkins, and Sam Kamin. 2001. “Punishment and Democracy: Three Strikes and You’re Out in California.” New York: Oxford University Press.

EDUCATION SPENDING

The study concludes by making a comparison to states that benefit from investment spending on education. For example, North Carolina whose economy is similar to Michigan’s receives nearly four times as much state support per student as Michigan by spending relatively less on prisons. As a result, a four-year degree costs $18,887 in North Carolina, and $38,215 in Michigan.

According to the study, 30 to 40 years ago North Carolina lagged behind Michigan in economic performance, but today is even.
 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Forrest Jones

Forrest Jones is an African American writer who lives in Oakland, California. He was released from San Quentin State Prison in 2019. During his time at San Quentin, he wrote for the San Quentin News.