Education, not corrections

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What’s more important: education or corrections?

Oregon seems to think that corrections are more important than education.

Especially during an economic recession where our state is millions of dollars in deficit, spending needs to be more carefully planned out than ever before. Priorities must be decided upon.

President Obama has given each state a stimulus check to help local governments keep running. Part of Obama’s goal is to give states some resources to help their schools since he’s frequently expressing the importance of good education.

However, news article after news article report how Oregon is compensating for the huge deficit by continuing to deplete the already inadequate education system. There are plans for school closures and layoffs. Teachers, who are already underpaid for their services may soon see a pay freeze or even a 3 to 4 percent pay reduction. Some districts contemplate whether or not they should drop to four days a week. Colleges and universities also see substantially less financial assistance.   

Even before the recession, Oregon has been steadily reducing the education investment. Art, music and physical education have almost been completely annihilated. The school year keeps shortening. Classrooms keep becoming increasingly overcrowded.

Many students at Portland State, and other local universities, plan to be teachers when they graduate. But, at this rate, there won’t be any jobs for them. Due to layoffs, there will be many experienced teachers who will be struggling to find work. This grim outlook definitely contradicts President Obama’s speeches for an improved educational system for children.

Instead of using more of the stimulus money for education, The Oregonian reports, “Gov. Ted Kulongoski wants to use $13.5 million of Oregon’s federal stimulus dollars to create an enhanced probation program for repeat property and drug offenders who might otherwise face prison under Measure 57.”

The program would be modeled after a nationally recognized program in Hawaii called HOPE. High-risk offenders would go before a judge for every probation violation and would do short sentences in jail instead of going to prison.

Ensuring that people stick to probation, going before a judge and jail sentences are all expensive to Oregon. Even though the state then charges the offender fines to cover some of the costs, they usually don’t have any money and have to do a payment plan. This means Oregon has to put out a lot of money to see it possibly trickle back in. Of course, if the offender doesn’t pay the fines, they are thrown back into jail and Oregon pays more money for them.

Although the idea of HOPE is overall a good idea because it would keep more people out of Oregon’s already overcrowded prisons, it’s not enough. Lawmakers need to look at our laws and see how we can change them for the greater good.

Last fall there were two measures on Oregon’s ballot that would increase prison sentences for petty offences, such as drug and property crimes. There was a clause that only one would be able to pass, whichever had the majority. Luckily, the less severe one, which is also the cheaper one, passed. Still, lawmakers are considering delaying the new measure’s beginning until two years from now.

The bottom line is that we cannot afford to keep locking people up for exorbitant lengths of time for petty crimes. Nor can we afford to keep putting people in court every time they get high and violate their probation.

Oregon has the second-highest unemployment rate in the United States. Our deficit is millions of dollars. The state needs to cut money. Education and corrections are two of the most money-consuming departments in a state. We need to put education first. The way to do that is to spend less money on corrections.

A good way to start would be evaluating Measure 11 and other laws that lock people up for extremely long sentences without possibility of parole. With many of us losing our jobs in this economic recession, perhaps this is the perfect time to give offenders with good behavior a second chance.

For people caught with possession of drugs, maybe we just need to realize that they’re only hurting themselves. By forcing them through the legal system, we’re hurting ourselves as it makes the deficit grow and there’s one less taxpayer to help pay for our educational system.

Desperate times call for radical solutions.
 

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