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Seventy billion dollars.

That is how much the United States spends annually on incarceration, probation and parole. Between 1987 and 2007, there has been a 127 percent funding increase for incarceration. In the same 20-year span, funding for higher education has increased a mere 20 percent.

These statistics show where the United States government places highest importance: incarceration, not education. Now, of course, fighting crime should be a priority of the government, as its primary role is to protect its citizens. Yet these increased expenditures aren't necessarily even contributing to decreased crime. Michael Tonry of The New York Times explains how "rises and falls in Canada's crime rate have closely paralleled America's for 40 years … But its imprisonment rate has remained stable." Meanwhile, research by the American Psychological Association Task Force shows that students who do not graduate from high school are more than eight times more likely to end up in prison. So should we not be going back to the root of the issues and investing in stopping crime before it even happens?

Creating such a movement is the primary goal of "Education NOT Incarceration," a local community event hosted by the ACLU, the Mayor's Office of Diversity and Salt Lake Peer Court. The actual focus of the event is the school-to-prison pipeline, an ever-growing issue in our public school system. The pipeline is caused by our schools taking an excessively punitive approach to student misconduct.

Oftentimes, schools give up their discretion in disciplining students and immediately turn to the harshest approach, even for low-level misbehavior. This includes, but is not limited to, suspensions and expulsions. Because of this, students often end up in the juvenile or criminal court system. This school system also works against students, especially students of color, students on IEP, the LGBT community, and foster care students. As a result, incarceration ends up becoming many students' futures, as opposed to the education that they deserve and that is necessary for the betterment of our community as a whole.

So how can you help to start breaking down this pipeline?

First of all, get informed. The "Education NOT Incarceration" event is the perfect opportunity for this. Held on Saturday, Oct. 11, from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Law and Justice Center in downtown Salt Lake City, this event is an opportunity to find out more details about the school to prison pipeline and the impact it has on our community, primarily through the voices of the community affected by the school to prison pipeline. For more information on the event, go to

Secondly, support programs that are already in place that counteract the impact of this pipeline. One such program is Salt Lake Peer Court, a local organization that focuses on addressing misconduct through restorative justice. I personally am a third year member of this program, and from my own experience, I can tell you that it makes a huge difference. As opposed to punishing kids, we focus on working with them, as their peers, to not only make up for their misconduct, but we also help them realize on their own just how important their education is and how greatly an improved behavior could help them in their future. So donate to the program. Or if you're a high school student reading this, Join!

Finally, work for change in our community. If we want it, it must come from all of us collectively.

Let's work together to start eliminating the path of incarceration for students, and rather, let's give everyone a fair chance at success.

Marcelina Kubica is a senior at West High School and a member of Salt Lake Peer Court.