McConnors corner
Colleges Vs. Prisons
By Sean McConnor
May 4, 2008 - 9:17:54 AM

The Associated Press reported this week that the heads of the three higher entities in California, the University of California system, the Cal State University System, and the California Community College system, led a rally in Sacramento to protest the proposed budget cuts to their institutions.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has announced that the projected deficit in the California State Budget, scheduled to begin in July, is not 16 billion and is really only 10 billion. (Say, what's a billion here or there when you are spending hard-earned taxpayer dollars?) At any rate, the governor has told the various college heads that they can expect a 10 percent cut in their budgets. In real dollars, that comes, as of now, to about 1.3 billion among them.
Governor Schwarzenegger will have some serious budgeting to do.

Not unexpectedly, the college chiefs are crying bloody murder. All total, they represent 142 colleges in the state. Chancellor Reed of the Cal State University system has become very vocal about this budget trimming. He suggests that the budgets of the California State Department of Corrections be examined. Huh?  Are we going to have some nerdy professors with coke-bottle glasses fighting with hefty prison guards now?

Chancellor Reed points out that the budgets for the colleges and the prisons are similar: 10.1 billion for prisons and 13.9 billion for colleges. He thinks we spend too much for corrections.  I do not know what the head of the corrections department thinks, but I bet he would say that we spend too little for prisons in the state.

One statistic says that California runs the largest prison system in the western world. We have more prisoners than the nations of Germany, Holland, France, and Singapore combined, as an illustration. Looking at a map of 32 prisons in the state, every single one is overcrowded thanks in part to the three strikes law, mandatory sentencing, and parole violations.

So what do we do now? Do we increase student fees to cover the shortfall in the college budgets, decrease the student population, which may result in more students on the streets doing nothing? (You know the old saying about idle hands: they get into trouble.) Or do we continue to jail convicted drug dealers, rapists, and thieves?

Whatever we decide, let us hope that the skirmishes between learning and imprisonment do not continue. It is a sad commentary on our times that we have reached this point.

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