Arizona’s winning formula: Prisons instead of education

We all know it’s better to invest in prisons than in education, right? I mean, why not throw millions at a declining prison population instead of spending it in the classroom?

Last week, buried among the headlines of the Republican National Convention, sandwiched between Clint Eastwood’s conversation with a chair and Governor Brewer’s accidental endorsement of Barack Obama, was an article about the awarding of an additional 1,000 private prison beds to Corrections Corp of America.

Never mind that independent studies have shown private prisons to be costlier than state-run facilities. Never mind that private prisons, including those in Arizona, have had serious safety concerns, including an escape by three prisoners that resulted in the death of an Oklahoma couple. Never mind that the state’s prison population has actually decreased.

Arizona officials justify the additional costs for private prisons by stating that they save money long-term because the state doesn’t need to build new facilities. Except in this case, there are no new facilities that need to be built because CCA is using an existing prison, and the “new” beds will cost more than 30% more than state-run beds, as pointed out by the Arizona Republic.

Spending this type of money on private prisons is even more puzzling when one looks at the growing momentum across the country for prison reform. And this isn’t strictly a Democratic proposal, either.

Three Republican governors have moved toward rehabilitation instead of incarceration. In New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie ended jail time for non-violent drug offenders while increasing rehabilitation programs, saying it was a more fiscally responsible and effective way to deal with drug crime.


Here in Arizona, we have many, many other things we should be prioritizing above prisons. Like education. This was today’s headline in the Republic: Arizona 1st in cuts to schools

Hurray! We’re number one!

We now spend almost $800 less per pupil than we did five years ago. Ask your local public school teacher what this means. Visit your local third-grade classroom and see why having 33 students in a room can make discipline more important than teaching.

Say what you will about “throwing money at education” to fix the problem, but the fact is classroom size does make a difference, especially in the elementary years.

It’s true we just faced a devastating economic recession, and yes, this state needed to make spending cuts. But if we can find money in our budget to increase spending on private prisons, how can we say there was no money for education?

A recession is the perfect time to make government reforms that will save money. Why not find those savings in prisons versus education? Other states have shown this is possible, and residents here in Arizona are clearly shouting out for increased education dollars. In fact, many of us are so desperate for education monies that we are willing to increase our sales taxes in order to fund it.

Arizonans value education and are willing to pay for it. How unfortunate that our leaders refuse to find those monies in places other than sales tax referendums. How unfortunate that our leaders choose incarceration over education.


  1. mike slater

    Julie, I have one question that I’ve posed on other blog sites. How much money is enough for education funding?

    I recently moved out of the City of Glendale because of the new taxes imposed on us to pay for a hockey team. Is paying for private prisons any different than paying for a Pro Sports team?

    My property tax bill in Glendale was $1200 a year. 75% of that was for education funding. I now reside in Sun City which has no school taxes. I will save about $600 a year.

    1. Post
      Julie Erfle


      First, I am completely opposed to taxpayer dollars funding stadiums, and I agree, paying for private prisons is like paying for a stadium — wasteful and unnecessary.

      Our population has grown over the last 5 years and yet our funding for education has been decimated. There’s only so much schools can do without proper funding, and this is why we end up with overcrowded classrooms. And it isn’t just public school districts that are saying this… charter schools are pushing for additional funding, too. At a bare minimum, we need to restore the funding cuts that were made.

      There are other things we can do to help get more dollars into the classroom, (like school consolidation) but we have to be realistic about how far we can stretch a dollar without negatively impacting students. My kids are young, so I’ve spent a great deal of time in and out of classrooms (in private, public & charter schools), and I’ve seen what a difference there is between a classroom with 21 students and one with 32.

  2. mike slater

    Julie, Part of the problem is the number of school districts, each with a superintendent making a six figure salary. Consolidate the schools into a few districts and free up that money for the classrooms.

    1. Post
      Julie Erfle

      Mike, I’ve written on school consolidation, and I agree that there are some districts that should be consolidated. But as you said, that is only a part of the problem. Funding is indeed a major part of the problem as well.

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