The Oregon legislature presently invests more of our tax dollars towards corrections than education. Oregon spent $684 million, almost 11% of the general fund, more than any other western state on corrections as of FY 2007. Oregon spent 2.1% more of its general fund on corrections than California.

Oregon invested $36 million more of our tax dollars on corrections than higher education. Oregon, along with Vermont and Michigan are the only three states in the union to invest less on education than corrections.

This is important to mention because there is a direct correlation between education and future prison populations. “Based on this year’s fourth-grade reading scores,” observes Paul Schwartz, a Coalition principal in residence at the U. S. Department of Education, “California is already planning the number of new prison cells it will need in the next century.”

Grammar school literacy rates are used by some states to predict future prison populations. Additionally, early childhood education is one of the most proven crime prevention strategies. Studies have shown both a reduction in juvenile crime and an increase in graduation, employment and earnings for children involved in pre-kindergarten. The cost benefit ratio to the tax payer is estimated at 16 to 1.

The US prison population grew 700% from 1970 to 2005 and is expected to grow another 13% in five years and now stands at over 2.2 million. More than two thirds of those incarcerated are non violent offenders, a direct result of tough anti-crime legislation like ‘three strikes your out’. One half of that two thirds are back in prison on technical violations such as missing a probation appointment or a drug test.

The national price tag is staggering, more than $44 billion annually and worse there is no correlation between increased incarceration and a corresponding reduction in crime. Unlike early childhood education, there is no return on investment.

The taxpayer may not be seeing any ROI, but harsher sentencing has been a boon to private prison management companies. George Zoley, chief executive of one company said 2007 had been a bonanza year and expects 2008 to be even better.

As prison management has slid from federal and state control to a privatized model more money is spent on lobbying lawmakers for stiffer sentencing. Recently, Congressional candidate, Kevin Mannix was able to push two initiatives on the Oregon ballot. One expands mandatory minimum sentencing and the other diverts lottery funds from education toward crime prevention and prosecution.

Investment in corrections comes at the expense of primary and secondary education, health and transportation. Many states like California and Texas after legislating stiff sentencing are now looking for less expensive alternatives to dealing with lawbreakers. One of these alternatives is increased services, education and attention to children.

While Oregon is staggering under the burden of a 10.9% corrections cost Coquille’s city council has just adopted an increase in the local police budget by 39% from 2006 or a whopping 30% of the general fund. Included in this increase is the addition of a new officer making roughly one in every 500 people in Coquille a cop. Coos County doesn’t have the crime fighting resources of this city of 4,200 people.

Incident reports tallied at the last city council meeting indicated that more than 600 of the roughly 800 plus incidents were officer initiated such as traffic violations. This is almost 20 incidents per day and may not be sufficient to cover the expected 21% increase in shared fine revenue also budgeted for by the city council.

Coquille has a low median income and a high unemployment rate and investing 30% of the general fund toward increased traffic enforcement shows little promise of a ROI to the average citizen. Maybe some of that money might be better invested in youth programs and scholarships.

Also, rather than charging citizens hourly rates and fees for copies of public documents like policy and procedures manuals for each department, perhaps some of the money should be applied to providing these references to the library or online.