August 15 2014

Californians are clear about what matters most to them.

Poll after poll finds that we want to be safe and healthy. We want good schools and opportunity for our children. And we think it’s smarter to spend a dime in prevention today than a dollar fixing a problem tomorrow.

But if you look at where our tax dollars go, our priorities often don’t line up with our values. A prime example of this is spending on prisons versus schools. We spend $62,300 a year to keep one inmate in prison, and just $9,100 per year per student in our public schools, according to the California Budget Project.

That’s why The California Endowment has started a new campaign called Do the Math. We want to raise awareness about our current spending priorities, and ask whether they add up for a healthier and more successful California.

Our campaign will first focus on the issue of prison spending. Today we incarcerate about 30,000 people – one out of every six people in state prison – for offenses like shoplifting and possessing small amounts of drugs. We used to hold people accountable for these crimes without sending them to prison, but harsh and automatic sentencing laws like Three Strikes placed many more people behind bars.

The result? California has built 22 prisons but just one University of California campus since the 1980s. And we spend $10 billion a year on our prison system.

Just think of what else we could do with the $62,300 a year that it costs us to keep someone in state prison. We could send 15 kids to preschool – and kids who go to preschool are 28% less likely to end up incarcerated. Or we could hire a guidance counselor or a school nurse to help young people stay healthy and on track for graduation.

There are lots of ways to Do the Math. You can learn more at the web site of Californians for Safety and Justice, and join the conversation via the hashtags #schoolsnotprisons and #dothemath.

Stay tuned for more information about Do the Math online, in your neighborhood, and even in a movie theater near you. Let’s all Do the Math for a healthier California.

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