State and local spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of funding for public education for preschool through grade P-12 education in the last three decades, a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Education found.
Released today, the report, Trends in State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education, notes that even when population changes are factored in, 23 states increased per capita spending on corrections at more than double the rate of increases in per-pupil P-12 spending. Seven states—Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia—increased their corrections budgets more than five times as fast as they did their allocations for P-12 public education. The report also paints a particularly stark picture of higher education spending across the country at a time when postsecondary education matters more than ever. Since 1990, state and local spending on higher education has been largely flat while spending on corrections has increased 89 percent.
“Budgets reflect our values, and the trends revealed in this analysis are a reflection of our nation’s priorities that should be revisited,” said U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. “For far too long, systems in this country have continued to perpetuate inequity. We must choose to make more investments in our children’s future. We need to invest more in prevention than in punishment, to invest more in schools, not prisons.”
The report sheds light on the connection between educational attainment and incarceration. The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population yet more than 20 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, two-thirds of state prison inmates have not completed high school. One study also shows young black men between the ages of 20 and 24 who do not have a high school diploma or an equivalent credential have a greater chance of being incarcerated than employed. Researchers have estimated that a 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates results in a 9 percent decline in criminal arrest rates.
“Mass incarceration does not make us safer. Yet for three decades, our country has prioritized spending on prisons instead of classrooms,” said Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama. “We can no longer afford this failure to invest in opportunity, only to lock up people once they’ve dropped out of school and turned to crime. These misguided priorities make us less safe and betray our values, and it is time we came together as a country to invest in our people and their capacity to contribute to society.”
The report comes after former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan last September called on states and communities to invest in teachers rather than prisons by finding alternative paths for non-violent offenders outside of incarceration. The $15 billion that could be saved by finding alternate paths to incarceration for just half of non-violent offenders is enough to give a 50 percent raise to every teacher and principal working in the highest-need schools and communities across the country.