Schools, jails and healthcare are the three major expenditures at the state levels. They all have their unique problems that combine to make budgeting one of the most complicated parts of a state government’s duties. Awful rules like three strike laws and/or drug laws that enact penalties incongruent to the effects of a drug crime force our justice system to err on the side of incarceration all too often.
The state currently spends a staggering 10% of its annual operating budget, or $10.8 billion, on its prison system and its nearly 170,000 prisoners—more than it spends on the University of California system, once the jewel in the crown of American public higher education.
It’s not free to jail people, but whenever a law and order politician beats their chest about being tough on crime cost is never an object. Dangerous people need to be jailed, but we can’t continue on the path where we have laws that don’t look for more effective ways to choose between who we need to punish and monitor, punish and rehabilitate and who we simply need to punish.
If we don’t, the need to incarcerate will always trump the need to educate and we end up punishing students in primary, secondary, vocational and college systems by simply not having money to run top quality institutions.