Corrections Spending Curve Far Outpaces Education, DoEd Says

State and local spending on prisons and jails has increased at triple the rate of funding for public education for preschool through grade 12 over the last three decades, a new analysis by the Education Dept. finds.

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 education 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 public education.. Since 1990, state and local spending on higher education has been largely flat while spending on corrections has increased 89%.

“Budgets reflect our values, and the trends revealed in this analysis are a reflection of our nation’s priorities that should be revisited,” said Education Secy. John King. “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.”

The report sheds light on the connection between educational attainment and incarceration. The United States has only 5% of the world’s population yet more than 20% 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% increase in high school graduation rates results in a 9% decline in criminal arrest rates.

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% raise to every teacher and principal working in the highest-need schools and communities across the country.

Key findings from the report include:

Over the past three decades, between 1979–80 and 2012–13, state and local expenditures for P–12 education doubled from $258 to $534 billion, while total state and local expenditures for corrections quadrupled from $17 to $71 billion.

All states had lower expenditure growth rates for education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections spending was more than 100 percentage points higher than the growth rate for education spending.

Even when adjusted for population changes, growth in corrections expenditures outpaced education expenditures in all but two states (New Hampshire and Massachusetts).

Over the roughly two decades, between 1989–1990 and 2012–2013, state and local appropriations for public colleges and universities remained flat, while funding for corrections increased by nearly 90%.

On average, state and local higher education funding per full-time equivalent student fell by 28%, while per capita spending on corrections increased by 44%.

The United States spends more than $80 billion annually on corrections. The department’s new report suggests that a better path forward would be increasing investments in education—from early childhood through college—which could improve skills, opportunities, and career outcomes for at-risk children and youth, particularly if the additional funds are focused on high-poverty schools. Investing more in increasing school success for disadvantaged children and youth could reduce disciplinary issues and reverse the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition, educational programs for incarcerated youth and adults could reduce recidivism and crime by developing skills and providing opportunities.

The Obama Administration continues to shine a light on reducing recidivism and promoting reentry for formerly incarcerated individuals. Recently, the department announced that nearly 12,000 incarcerated students will enroll in the new Second Chance Pell pilot program, which allows students incarcerated in federal and state penal institutes to access pell grants for postsecondary education and training programs.

Further, the department, in partnership with the DOJ Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), created a $5.7 million grant program aimed at improving outcomes for students who have been involved in the criminal justice system. The Education Department also recently called on colleges and universities to remove barriers that can prevent the estimated 70 million citizens with criminal records from pursuing higher education, including considering the chilling effect of inquiring early in the application process whether prospective students have ever been arrested.

A recent report from the Council of Economic Advisors titled “Economic Perspectives on Incarceration and the Criminal Justice System” shines further light on issues of incarceration and the criminal justice system. Additionally, the Administration has taken action to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline through efforts like the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, which brings together partners from the federal government and almost every sector to improve opportunity for all young people, including young men and boys of color.


About Frank Klimko

Frank Klimko is a nationally known journalist, grants expert and speech writer/speaker. He has years of experience helping nonprofits devise lists of the right funding opportunities and secure funding from these foundations and corporate entities. Clients have focused on an array of areas including child care, homeless, hunger and K-12 education.

Additionally, he is a Freedom of Information Act expert, who has helped numerous clients with securing proprietary information from the federal government.

Currently, Frank Klimko writes the Children & Youth Funding Report and Private Grants Alert, which are Washington DC-based publications. CYF is a daily publication covering Congress, the Education Dept. and the various federal regulatory agencies. PGA, another daily publication, covers the world of private philanthropy.

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