NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous at press conference announcing new report, Misplaced Priorities. Image courtesy of the NAACP.

On Los Angeles’ Century Boulevard, a large billboard highlights a jarring statistic: In California, since 1988, state spending on prisons has risen 20 times faster than on higher education.

The billboard is part of a national campaign launched by the NAACP, timed with the release of Misplaced Priorities, a major new report that draws attention to rising corrections costs versus dwindling funds for education, and ties high incarceration rates to poor educational achievement. In Los Angeles, one of six cities profiled in the report, the report notes that “69 of the 90 (67 percent) low performing schools are in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates. By contrast, 59 of the city’s 86 high performing schools (68 percent) are in neighborhoods with the lowest incarceration rates.”

The report is part of the NAACP’s Smart and Safe campaign, an innovative initiative that advocates for and advances a better public safety system that reduces reliance of prisons to solve social justice issues. Instead of  so-called “tough on crime” rhetoric and policies, Smart and Safe captures the true goals and aspirations of how public safety and criminal justice institutions should operate and perform in communities.

The initiative focuses on three key issue areas: eliminating employment barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals; sentencing reform; and advancing effective law enforcement. Among Smart and Safe’s accomplishments is a push to “Ban the Box” in California, which resulted in an administrative order from the Governor’s office removing the question of criminal history from employment applications for state positions.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its vision is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. In 2008, Benjamin Todd Jealous, former Rosenberg president, became the17th President and Chief Executive Officer of the NAACP, and the youngest person to hold the position in the organization's nearly 100-year history.

Since 1991, the Rosenberg Foundation has made nearly $300,000 in grants to the NAACP.