He said he is going to cut spending on education while at the same time he intends to increase spending on prisons. This is completely backwards. It is common knowledge that the better educated are our youth, the less likely they are to end up in prison. It also costs a lot less to educate than it does to incarcerate. We should be revising our criminal justice system and increasing funding for our educational system. People aren’t going to want to move to Nevada because our prisons are the best, but they will come if our schools are topnotch.
Also, this blatant increase in spending to punish our citizens reeks of racism. Just who are we putting in our prisons? Blacks are represented in Nevada prisons more than six times their representation in the general population. This means that if our general population is 10 percent black, our prisons’ black population is 60 percent. At the same time, Nevada’s high school graduation rate is around 50 percent for all students but much lower for black males — only 17 percent by one outside calculation. Sandoval’s proposal to cut education funds and increase prison funds just further perpetuates this problem.
Racism is alive and well in Nevada because it is institutionalized. We are made to feel comfortable with the criminal justice system on the belief that all people in prison are there because they are criminals, not because of their race. We are led to believe that it is just a coincidence that minorities are overrepresented in our prisons. But this is intentional and not mitigated because there happens to be white people in prison, too.
The laws apply equally to all but the police and the prosecutors have unfettered discretion as to who is arrested and charged with crimes. Drug busts are routinely conducted in minority neighborhoods, not in upper-middle-class areas where most of the drug use occurs. You don’t just see any mass arrests at college campuses for cocaine and marijuana use, and we all know drug use is rampant at college. And the laws themselves have built-in discrimination. Crack cocaine is punished much more severely than powder cocaine. Crack is used more by minorities because it is cheaper while upper society tends to use powder cocaine. This issue currently is being addressed by Congress, but it shows the intentional disparate impact of our laws. It is just not publicized.
We now have more blacks in the prison system than there were slaves at the start of the Civil War. This is not progress. We need to get out of our punitive state of mind and into a preventative mode.
Sandoval’s increased funding for prisons and education cuts are a step backwards and not the progress we need to make over the next two years.
Jeff Blanck is an attorney in private practice in Reno and the legal redress chair of the Reno/Sparks branch of the NAACP. He can be reached at email@example.com.