Students, faculty and staff at UC Berkeley, my alma mater, are protesting fee hikes and layoffs today. Interestingly, one of the advertised rationales behind the protest is the comparison of yearly funding per student ($14,000) to the funding per inmate ($49,000).
Earlier this year, the Legal Analyst's office examined a gubernatorial proposed measure to limit correctional expenditure to 7 percent of General Fund support and to set a minimum of 10 percent for California public universities. LAO found the measure artificial and fiscally unwise. However, the bottom line stands: Our expenditures are an expression of our social priorities.
I wonder if the students protesting this morning realize that the expenditures per inmate do not mean an intimate investment in inmates' vocational and educational future, and that two thirds of the expenditure per inmate are medical costs, unevenly distributed among the inmate population and addressing primarily the needs of elderly, frail inmates, often incarcerated for unnecessarily lengthy periods. I also wonder what the students perceive as an appropriate solution for "evening out" the odds.
It was at UC Berkeley where I was privileged to study with Malcolm Feeley, Jonathan Simon and Frank Zimring, and was introduced to mass incarceration in the United States as an important social problem. I support the UC Berkeley struggle for funding, and my hope is that those participating in that struggle, who perhaps are reading us this morning, will realize that the university cuts are part of a broader flawed expression of social priorities.