Incarcerate or Educate?

Youth Rally to Halt Millions for Juvenile Facility Expansion

"It's absurd!" Barron said when questioned about the capital project. Referring to a statement by 16-year-old Jesus Gonzalez at the City Hall rally, he said, "We need more books, not bars; schools, not prisons; and if you're cutting everything else, cut the prison budget too."

Barron vows to inform his council colleagues of the situation and is committed to working to re-allocate the funds. Whether or not Bloomberg will help reform the juvenile justice system and also continue his crusade for fiscal accountability by re-allocating the $64.6 million remains to be seen. While Barron thinks that Bloomberg's allegiance will be to his own—the rich and corporate elite—and that the mayor will continue to appease them by cutting social programs rather than raising taxes, the youth activists and grassroots organizations are banking on Bloomberg's business acumen being an asset to their mission.

Citing examples of cities that have reformed or reduced their prison populations, Kirsten Levingston, director of the Brennan Center's criminal justice program, argued that Mayor Bloomberg will follow suit. "After all," said Levingston as she addressed the City Hall rally, "Mayor Bloomberg is a successful businessman and he didn't strike it rich by investing in operations that weren't needed or did more harm than good. Locking up more kids isn't sound fiscal policy and it certainly isn't sound community development policy."

City Council member Charles Barron with youth groups protesting at City Hall
photo: Cary Conover
City Council member Charles Barron with youth groups protesting at City Hall

Why would the system opt to spend over $130,00 a year to incarcerate one youth, when only $9739 is used to educate one? "The reason why they build more prisons than schools," said Barron, "is because we're living in a society that's building a prison-industrial-complex."

Barron links the $64.6 million with the 13th Amendment's assertion that slavery shall not exist except as a punishment for a crime and sees the allocation as indicative of a push to create a pool of prison labor. "The more they build, the more they will fill," says Barron. "They expect our children to commit crime during times of economic crisis and they'll have the prisons waiting for them."

"It's kind of like a hotel," says Hardin. "The more people you have filling these beds, the more money you're going to have."

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