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10/25/2010 - 12:30pm
10/25/2010 - 2:30pm

Come learn and share information about the relationship between Education and the Prison Industrial Complex from a Student Perspective! We be having speakers as well as other information on why is that our prisons are more impacted in our community and our people. Please come by and learn from experience.

Education vs. Incarceration

"We are tracking one group of kids from kindergarten to prison, and we are tracking one group of kids from kindergarten to college."
- Lani Guinier

In the United States, youth of color caught in the crossfire of the war on drugs are frequently subject to persecution, incarcerated and denied access to education opportunities. The irony is that the war on drugs is often defended as a necessary policy to protect the nation's young people. In reality, rather than protecting youth, the drug war has resulted in the institutionalized persecution of Black, Latino and Native American young people. While more and more young men and women of color are being ushered into the criminal justice system under the guise of fighting drugs, resources for educating youth are diminishing and barriers to education restrict students with drug convictions from receiving higher education.

Youth of color bear the brunt of harmful drug policies, from arrest to prosecution to detention in correctional facilities. Some states in the U.S. now have the distinction of sending more Black and Latino young people to prison every year than graduate from state university programs. This legacy of discrimination in U.S. drug policy amplifies the burgeoning gap in opportunities available to White youth and youth of color. In order to correct this discrepancy, policies must be enacted that make education a priority over incarceration. There must be an end to drug laws whose effect is to criminalize youth of color, racially discriminatory policing practices and barriers to education for youth who have been directed into the criminal justice system and away from school.

Justice or "Just Us"

Although White youth sell and use drugs at the same or higher rates as youth of color,(1) Black and Latino youth are arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned at dramatically higher rates for drug crimes. In 1980, 14.5% of all juvenile drug arrests were Black youth; by 1990, Black youth constituted 48.8% of juvenile drug arrests.(2) A Black youth with a drug case is more than twice as likely to be held in police custody for a drug offense than a White youth.(3) While half of all drug arrests involving White youth result in formal processing, 75% of drug arrests involving Black youth are prosecuted.(4) Among young people incarcerated in juvenile facilities for the first time on a drug charge, the rate of commitment among Black youth is 48 times that of Whites, while the rate for Latino youth is 13 times that of Whites.(5) Black youth are three times more likely than White youth to be admitted to an adult prison for a drug conviction.(6) While the rate of young Whites being sent to prison for drug offenses from 1986-1996 doubled, the comparable Black rate increased six-fold.(7)

Because crimes committed on Indian reservations often fall within federal jurisdiction, Native American youths who engage in minor criminal conduct that ordinarily would be prosecuted in state court instead face federal prosecution and federal penalties that are often far harsher than those imposed in state court. For this reason, approximately 60% of youths in federal custody are Native American.(8) Disabled children are also disadvantaged in the juvenile justice system because they may lose their statutory entitlement to individualized education programs upon being transferred to adult facilities.

Education not Incarceration

In the past decade, many U.S. states have cut their budgets for higher education funds to compensate for rapid growth in prison populations and prison construction, fueled in part by increasing numbers of drug offenders in state and federal prisons. In both New York and California, prison expenditures now exceed university financing and more Black men are admitted as prisoners than graduate from the state universities.(9) From 1977-1995, the U.S. prison spending increased by 823% while spending on higher education went up by only 374%.(10)

Youthful Indiscretions for the Privileged, Life Punishment for the Poor

The drug provision of the Higher Education Act, passed in 1998 by the United States Congress, delays or denies federal financial aid for higher education for any student convicted of a misdemeanor or felony drug offense. Given the disproportionately high numbers of Black and Latino youth arrested, detained, prosecuted and convicted for drug offenses, this policy will have a disparate impact on the education of youth of color. In this way, the unequal access to opportunities - for education, employment and a decent life - between black and white youth is exacerbated and sustained, guaranteeing the perpetuation of racial disparities in their future lives as adults and in the lives of their children and grandchildren through the generations.

The rate at which minority youth are relegated to lives of incarceration and its consequences serves to negate many of the hard-fought gains of the civil rights movement. During the last half of the 20th century, Blacks and other minorities in the U.S. struggled to win the right to equal opportunity in employment, housing, education and public accommodations. These rights are meaningless to hundreds of thousands of minority prisoners and non-violent drug offenders. Because of the drug war Black and Latino communities in the U.S. have lost a generation of young men to the criminal justice system. Statistical projections suggest that future generations of minority males will be lost unless U.S. drug policies are reformed.


The 1999 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse reports that White youth aged 12-17 are more than a third more likely to have sold drugs than African-American youth. The National Institute of Drug Abuse survey of high school seniors for 1998/1999 shows that White students use cocaine at 7 to 8 times the rate of African American students, and heroin at 7 times the rate of African American students.
"Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs," A Human Rights Watch Report, May 2000, Vol. 12, No. 2 (G).
Snyder, H., Finnegan, T., Stahl, A., & Poole, R. (1999). Easy access to juvenile court statistics: 1988-1997 [data presentation and analysis package]. Pittsburgh, PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice [producer].
DeComo, R. (1993, September). The Juveniles Taken into Custody Research Program: Estimating the prevalence of juvenile custody rates by race and gender. NCCD Focus. National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Adapted from Profile of State Prisoners under Age 18, 1985-97, Bureau of Justice Statistics 2000
Beatty, Phillip, Holman, Barry and Schiraldi, Vincent. (2000) Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States. Washington DC: The Justice Policy Institute.
Steven R. Donzinger ed., The Real War on Crime: The Report of the National Criminal Justice Commission, (1997), p. 104
Special data set, generated by State Department of Correctional Services, data analysis unit, measuring new court commitments, 1973 to 1997, by race and ethnicity. From Gangi, Robert, Vincent Schiraldi and Jason Zeidenberg. (1998) New York State of Mind?: Higher Education vs. Prison Funding in the Empire State, 1988-1998. Washington DC: The Justice Policy Institute.
U.S Bureau of Census.