Education vs. Incarceration

“What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than on caps and gowns?” —Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 2010 CA state of the state address

Illustration of spending for prisons versus education in 40 states. Click to see full version on cnn.com.
Illustration of spending for prisons versus education in 40 states. Click to see full version on cnn.com.

Nationally, the rate of states’ prison spending is increasing faster than education spending. Perhaps the most infamous example is California, which, since 1980, has decreased higher education spending by 13% while increasing spending on prisons and correctional programs by an astonishing 436%.

Books Through Bars believes education is key to reducing crime. Multiple studies confirm the benefits of investing of education over incarceration in general, as well as the benefits of educating the incarcerated. However, current trends in state spending across the country run to the contrary.

Pennsylvania: bars before books

The past decade in Pennsylvania reflects one national trend of investing heavily in prison spending while radically slashing education spending.

Infographic showing costs associated with education versus incarceration in PA. Click for a bigger view. Designed by Jason Killinger for Maskar Design.
Infographic showing costs associated with education versus incarceration in PA. Click for a bigger view. Designed by Jason Killinger for Maskar Design.

Incarceration in PA

From 2000-2010, Pennsylvania’s inmate population grew 40%, from 36,816 to 51,487. During that same time period

  • The Department of Corrections’ budget increased 37%, from $1.17 billion to $1.6 billion
  • Part I (more serious) crime rates dropped by nearly 3% and Part II (less serious) crimes increased by a fraction of a percent.

Yet according to a 2011 report from the Pennsylvania Auditor General, “Less than half of the inmates (46 percent) in Pennsylvania correctional institutes are Part I violent offenders.” The report also states that “cuts can and must be made in criminal justice programs to meet these budgetary constraints without sacrificing public safety” and “the Commonwealth could save hundreds of millions of dollars in capital costs by not building new prisons.”

Despite this, the 2013 state budget allocated $400 million for the construction of a new prison in Graterford, PA, just outside of Philadelphia.

Education in PA

While PA continues to invest in prisons, it has slashed education spending.

  • The 2011-2012 state budget cut $1.1 billion from the education budget
  • In the 2013-2014 school year, facing a $304 million budget shortfall, the Philadelphia district closed 23 schools and fired thousands of teachers, aides and counselors in the remaining schools
  • 75% of PA schools will reduce instructional programming as a result of budget cuts
  • PA spends twice as much on prisons as it does on higher education

Studies report that anywhere from 50% to 70% of prisoners did not complete high school.

Nationally: leading in prisoners, not graduates

Slice of a wonderfully detailed infographic about the long-term cost of spending to incarcerate versus educate. Click to view full version. Courtesy of Knewton and Infographic World.
Slice of a wonderfully detailed infographic about the long-term cost of spending to incarcerate versus educate. Click to view full version. Courtesy of Knewton and Infographic World.

The United States is ranked #21 in educational attainment globally…but #1 in incarceration. We hold 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s prisoners. The Atlantic estimates that in 2013, “1 million students will fail to graduate high school, a loss of 5,500 students for every day on the academic calendar.”

While spending on incarceration continues to increase, funds for schooling at every level, from Head Start to university, continue to be cut each year. According to the Pew Center, from 1987 to 2007 nationwide spending on corrections increased by 127%, while spending on higher education saw only a 21% increase. States now spend four times more per capita to incarcerate than to educate.

What’s the link between education and incarceration? Consider one simple statistic: nationally, about 1 in 10 young male high school dropouts is imprisoned, compared to 1 in 35 young male high school graduates.