As the state is poised to embark upon a historic prisoner release, one professor argues that sending convicts to college could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars in lockup costs while at the same time turning career criminals in productive members of society.

In a Sacramento Bee opinion piece, UCLA film, television, and digital media professor Chon A. Noriega proposes to transfer 10 percent of state prisoners, ones who are “nonviolent offenders who have an aptitude for higher education,” to the state's university systems. Because the state spends 6.5 times the amount it pays to educate a UCLA student on housing a prisoner, he calculates the cost benefit would be immediate in these budget-strapped times: $536 million would be saved annually.

Noriega notes that three decades ago California put nearly three times as much into education as it did into its prison system. Today prisons take up 11 percent of spending while education takes up 7.5 percent. Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks it's ass-backwards:

“Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future,” he said. “What does it say about a state that focuses more on prison uniforms than caps and gowns? It simply is not healthy.”

Noriega argues that “higher education is a surefire investment in human potential, an investment that is repaid many times over by the contributions made by alumni.”

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