One More Reason to Close Youth Prisons Now
The recent news that California State University will refuse to accept most new admits next spring is just the latest in a series of blows to the state’s public universities—and it offers one more reason to close California’s youth prisons now.
Let’s start with the schools. When I started college at UCLA a little more than 10 years ago, annual tuition was about $3,600 a year. For me and my family that wasn’t cheap (especially when housing costs were added on), but it was reasonable. In fact, UC even sent out a press release bragging about how it was bucking a national trend by not raising student fees for six straight years. The Cal State schools were in the same boat. The 2001-2002 school year marked the seventh straight year without tuition hikes. Enrolling in a Cal State campus cost about $1,400.
What a difference a decade makes.
In that decade, we've seen a veritable assault on the state's public universities which, supposedly, keep "access" at the heart of their mission. UC tuition has risen to about $13,200. The Cal States saw tuition increase nine times between 2002 and 2012. Tuition for the 2011-2012 year is $5,472—and it will go up again next fall. Worse yet, the tuition increases did nothing to improve the quality of education because state funding continued to dry up.
It is of little wonder that the appetite for more fee increases at Cal State has all but gone away. And that's why we're getting the drastic measures that hit the news last week. Another 20,000 to 25,000 qualified students could be turned away for the 2013-2014 school year if voters don't approve a proposed tax increase that is expected to be on the November ballot.
Which brings us to prisons. Here at Books Not Bars, we have advocated closing California's youth prisons for a host of reasons. The conditions are deplorable. Children are abused. They don't get the opportunity to develop into healthy adults. Add one more to the list: Even if we wanted to, we just can't afford them.
California now spends more on prisons than on colleges. Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget would spend $10.7 billion on corrections compared to $9.8 billion on higher education, according to government figures.
This year alone, the state is spending about $240 million to keep its youth prisons up and running. If they were closed, some of that money would be diverted to local governments who would be responsible for those now in the state youth prisons, but it would still mean saving hundreds of millions of dollars for worthy programs—like higher education.
True, $240 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what's really needed to save our public universities. And, true, even with the closure of the youth prisons, our universities would still be facing dramatic budget cuts. But it would be a start.
And the state has to start somewhere in shifting its focus away from prisons and back toward colleges. Unless, that is, it wants to watch as our prison budgets grow more bloated while the Harvards, the Yales and the Stanfords of the world become more affordable than UCs and Cal States.
Kelly Rayburn is an Intern with the Ella Baker Center's award-winning Books Not Bars Campaign. Kelly is a second year law student at USF School of Law.
Photo Credit: Ben Margot / AP
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