public policy

Private Prisons are Expensive, Dangerous and Bad Public Policy. We Should Abolish Them.

A recent undercover investigation by online news site Mother Jones uncovered horrific conditions at a private prison facility located in Winnfield, Louisiana. Over the course of four months, journalist Shane Bauer posed as a correctional officer at the Winn Correctional Facility and saw firsthand how an overcrowded and understaffed correctional facility coped with stabbings, mental illness, and constant stress.

It’s an amazingly extensive piece of reporting. Bauer was able to record audio and video footage inside the prison and filed nightly video reports sharing his thoughts and feelings from the day. Between his written article, a podcast episode and a video series pulled together by Mother Jones (see below) you get a wide glimpse into the world of private prisons and their deadly shortcomings.

Bauer’s investigation is simply another confirmation of what criminal justice reform advocates have been saying for some time. The benefits private prisons often claim when vying for state contracts are near non-existent: (more…)

The Civil Tube: The Impact #Desegregation had on Schools

A few years ago, investigative journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones reported on the rising levels of school segregation in America’s public education system. “In Tuscaloosa today,” Hannah-Jones noted, “nearly one in three black students attends a school that looks as if Brown v Board of Education never happened.”

The negative implications for this retrenchment for black and Latino children are sizable, leading to higher levels of absenteeism, lower levels of access to after-school and summer learning programs, and drastically lowered chances at attending college. 

This week’s Civil Tube video is a TedX talk from Dr. Rucker Johnson, Associate Professor at UC Berkeley who has devoted much of his research to understanding the benefits to school desegregation and what it means to fall further away from the spirit of Brown v Board of education.

Community Eligibility!

Great blog post from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  In 2010, President Obama signed into law the child nutrition bill.  Included in that bill was a provision known as “community eligibility.” The provision allowed school districts operating in high-poverty areas to offer all students free breakfasts and lunches.

Because these schools already operated in localities where the majority of students were eligible for free or reduced price meals, expanding the program to the remainder of the school population added minimal costs.  On top of that, participating school districts saved significant administration and overhead resources by not having to fill out paperwork.

This is why I love public policy. “Community eligibility” means more children get healthy food and a full stomach.

I’ll let Zoë Neuberger share the good news:

  • Across Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan, 665 schools are now community eligibility schools, serving more than 280,000 students, with additional schools expected to join in the coming year.  More than three-quarters of students at these schools were approved for free or reduced-price meals for the 2010-2011 school year, prior to community eligibility’s start.
  • Across all three states, these schools served roughly one in ten of the children who were approved for a free or reduced-price meal during the 2010-2011 school year.  In Michigan, nearly one in five children who was approved for a free or reduced-price meal last year attended a school that is now participating in community eligibility.
  • Unsurprisingly, more children ate at school once the meals were free for all students.  In community eligibility schools, average daily lunch participation rose from 72 percent in October 2010 to 78 percent in October 2011, while average daily breakfast participation rose from 48 percent to 57 percent over the same period.  Kentucky particularly stands out for an increase in breakfast participation, jumping from 49 percent in October 2010 to 70 percent in October 2011, reflecting more widespread availability of breakfast in the classroom.
  • Every participating school district that we spoke with would recommend the option to other districts serving a comparably poor student body.  Although participating schools receive the federal free meal subsidy for only a portion of meals, school districts report that administrative savings make up for the meal charges they must forgo, and parents and staff have reacted positively to the program.

The program was available in Illinois, Kentucky, and Michigan this past year and will be expanding to the District of Columbia, New York, Ohio, and West Virginia for the 2012-2013 school year.  After that, any school district eligible can participate.  Very exciting.