US Spends 6 Times More on Prisons than Education


Globe and Mail

For the first time in history, more than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to a new report tracking the surge in inmate population and urging states to rein in corrections costs with alternative sentencing programs.

The report, released Thursday by the Pew Center on the States, said the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year, up from less than $11 billion 20 years earlier. The rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

Using updated state-by-state data, the report said 2,319,258 adults were held in U.S. prisons or jails at the start of 2008 – one out of every 99.1 adults, and more than any other country in the world.

The steadily growing inmate population “is saddling cash-strapped states with soaring costs they can ill afford and failing to have a clear impact either on recidivism or overall crime,” said the report.

Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States, said budget woes are prompting officials in many states to consider new, cost-saving corrections policies that might have been shunned in the recent past for fear of appearing soft in crime.

“We’re seeing more and more states being creative because of tight budgets,” she said in an interview. “They want to be tough on crime, they want to be a law-and-order state – but they also want to save money, and they want to be effective.”

The report cited Kansas and Texas as states which have acted decisively to slow the growth of their inmate population. Their actions include greater use of community supervision for low-risk offenders and employing sanctions other than re-imprisonment for ex-offenders who commit technical violations of parole and probation rules.

“The new approach, born of bipartisan leadership, is allowing the two states to ensure they have enough prison beds for violent offenders while helping less dangerous lawbreakers become productive, taxpaying citizens,” the report said.

According to the report, the inmate population increased last year in 36 states and the federal prison system.

The largest percentage increase – 12 percent – was in Kentucky, where Gov. Steve Beshear highlighted the cost of corrections in his budget speech last month. He noted that the state’s crime rate had increased only about 3 percent in the past 30 years, while the state’s inmate population has increased by 600 percent.

The Pew report was compiled by the Center on the State’s Public Safety Performance Project, which is working directly with 13 states on developing programs to divert offenders from prison without jeopardizing public safety.

“For all the money spent on corrections today, there hasn’t been a clear and convincing return for public safety,” said the project’s director, Adam Gelb. “More and more states are beginning to rethink their reliance on prisons for lower-level offenders and finding strategies that are tough on crime without being so tough on taxpayers.”

The report said prison growth and higher incarceration rates do not reflect a parallel increase in crime or in the nation’s overall population. Instead, it said, more people are behind bars mainly because of tough sentencing measures, such as “three-strikes” laws, that result in longer prison stays.

“For some groups, the incarceration numbers are especially startling,” the report said. “While one in 30 men between the ages of 20 and 34 is behind bars, for black males in that age group the figure is one in nine.”

The nationwide figures, as of Jan. 1, include 1,596,127 people in state and federal prisons and 723,131 in local jails – a total 2,319,258 out of almost 230 million American adults.

The report said the United States is the world’s incarceration leader, far ahead of more populous China with 1.5 million people behind bars. It said the U.S. also is the leader in inmates per capita (750 per 100,000 people), ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations which make up the rest of the Top 10.

  • Joe

    Please add the link to the original article. Thank you.

  • Mick Meaney

    The email didn't contain a link to the original, can you point me towards it please?


  • Vermont

    I would like to know what percentage of these is for posession, and to further break it out, how many for posession of weed.

  • Fred Adams

    Say wouldn't it be good to outsource prisons to China and India.

    Come to think of it, outsourcing education would also reduce the deficit.

  • "Land of the Free" my ass! Save the jails for violent dangerous criminals. Free all nonviolent prisoners. Legalize all "vices." Stop trying to your silly "morals" into the law book. Goddamn idiots.

    Save all of this money and put it into education.

  • August

    I wish there was a country for me to sneek into; all other countries hate Americans though. The "prison" population is actually higher considering once someone gets out of prison or jail they can't get a living wage job or get their own housing, thus creating more crime.

  • Jimmy L

    Why not throw everyone in jail? Then we can control their every move and make this into a real autocratic state (rather than the hidden autocratic state that it currently is). Power to the people!

    If you're a drudge fan:

  • ctiberius

    So I guess we should just let everyone out onto the streets? What is the argument here? Forget incarcerating criminals and just lavish them with public school funding increases? I'm sure the dealers and the users and thieves and the rapists and the murderers were just misunderstood teens who grew up craving a good book and a guidance counselor to talk to.

  • This is actually a big problem and I think that the laws need to be adjusted to make sure that only those that really need to spend time behind bars do that. Alternative punishment system might work better than imprisonment.

  • Figuria

    Growing numbers in prison… Well when we have an executive branch that thinks it is above the law, why are we surprised when their lead-by-example approach results in emulation across the board.

    FYI for link purposes, I first saw this article at:

    But I believe it's origin may have been the Pew Center:

  • What specific areas (towns,little or big cities)are all these criminals coming from,and what is going on or not going on there?Seems to me all of this must be known, and I suspect that would be were living standards are low and a high degree of hopelessness exists. Now spending some of our tax dollars would be better spent in those places. Wada ya think?

  • mirror

    the laws all ready been adjusted to suit thous h did adjustment….

  • mirror

    Prisons- big business

    1. Build it!

    2.Feds will fill it Up.

    3.Its 'New Age' big 'Money laundromat'

    4.They call it 'correct…' I call it 'corrupt…''

    5.80% is jews-own, the rest is own by ''judges'

    6.How to benefit; live-long 'human cattle' business

  • jack quwin

    you all are missing the bigger picture

    how many of they would stay out of prison if u gave them $1000 per month, and we saved a heck of a lot of money that way.

    i live comfortably on slightly less the $600 per month

    if you count what HUD give me for section 8 I make about $800 dollars a month

    I looked up 3 states

    FL: $1583 per month (all most twice what I make)

    FL $19,000 per inmate cost per year

    Mi $2546 per month (WAY more then I make)

    Mi $30,555 per inmate per year

    Indiana's $1691 per month (more than double what I make)

    Indiana's $20,294 per year

    so you see the savings here ?

    instead of sending them to prison give then $1000 per month

    and save a hell of a lot of money

    maybe I should sue my state for the money they do not have to pay for me not being in prison.

    but Prison populations like this is what happens when you get rid of what they called

    “the welfare state.” That gave people WAY less then what we are paying to house them in prison. Only women can really get welfare now. I'm a prime example, welfare will pay nothing for my rent or utilities or medicine, but are willing to give me $11 per month in food stamps. Now if I was a woman I would qualify for more and this includes checks for housing, utilities and Medicaid/Medicare.

    ever notice they are not building MORE woman prisons ?

    you get 5 male prisons for every one woman’s prison

    SO I SAY pay then $1000 per month and save us all money


  • Adam Seale

    Anyone else also see something of a connection between a horrid public school system and high crime rates?

  • Janie

    Jack quwin, you have hit it on the head, but you have the wrong answer. Paying them money is not going to fix any problems. Look at that amount of money spent, as Jack says, that is more than decent people are making WORKING for a living. Prisons are too nice, why should prisoners live a life so much better than honest working people? They should take away the TV's, the cable, the cigarettes. Hard labor and simple, but nourishing, food (oatmeal anyone?) would do alot to reduce the expenses. Expand the death penalty, or even just execute those on death row. Inmates on death row cost over 5 times the average cost of regular prisoners. Bring back some physical punishment. Speeding – 5 lashes, drug use – 25 lashes, second offense 50 lashes, 3rd 75…you get the idea. Those kinds of punishments are effective. Cruel and Unusual? It is cruel and unusual for me to have to slave away at 2 jobs so I can eat, and then have my tax money going to pay for those thugs that live better than I do. I have people in my neighborhood that when things get tough for them, they go do something so they get put back in jail. At least there they get free TV, free food, and a place to sleep instead of having to work to get those things. You can bet that if they started getting whippings then wouldn't be so eager to go back to commit crimes anymore.

    • Joedirt

      “Janie” thinks prisons where inmates rape and stab each other and join gangs for protection are “too nice” — hahahahaha! News flash: there’s no cigarette smoking allowed in prison! Expand the death penalty? Why? Because only poor slobs who can’t afford lawyers and turn down plea bargains get put on death row?  Hey, I’ve got an idea — let’s start whipping *you* every day and see how fast you START committing crimes. Let’s see how you like the size of that shoe then.

      God save us from fascist, scary, violent, ignorant people like you, “Janie.” And thank you for not breeding.

    • Isalia

      My darling, i dont thing that you realize how much more it costs to to exicute one person, then to hold them for life. Turns out, it is cheaper to imprison killers for life than to execute them, according to a series of recent surveys. Tens of millions of dollars cheaper, politicians are learning, during a tumbling recession when nearly every state faces job cuts and massive deficits. “It’s 10 times more expensive to kill them than to keep them alive,” though most Americans believe the opposite, said Donald McCartin, a former California jurist known as “The Hanging Judge of Orange County” for sending nine men to death row.
      ————–What does the law say? Do not kill. How does the law nsay it? By killing.

  • michael mazur

    Were the State to spend on education what it spends on prisons it would need only to spend on prisons what it now spends on education .

    But that would create an educated thinking population who would begin to demand of the State that it justify abdicating the public good, as it has, by giving the licence to private banks to create money out of thin air and to charge interest on it.

    That is why the private banks demand that education for nearly all people be so designed that most people by far are rendered incapable of even posing the question of how money is really created, let alone coming to the independant conclusion that it is only thin air being loaned to us at interest.

    One further intended result of our `education` is that it leaves people ill equipped to properly handle life, but the State and the banks don't really mind as they would rather have us all in jail anyway.

  • Give me a break

    This site is apparently afraid of the truth since my last comment was not accepted…

    "The RATE OF INCREASE for prison costs was six times greater than [THE RATE OF INCREASE] for higher education spending, the report said."

    There is a very big difference.

  • Mick Meaney

    Your comment was not accepted because it contained a barrage of insults to another poster.

    Keep it civil and there's no problem.


  • Bart

    many people say, omg how america has changed.

    in fact they are wrong, america hasnt changed a bit, but the best pr machine ever, the best and most expensive mask ever built is gently, slowly coming off.

  • Rick

    Read a few books on this topic and estimate around 28% incarcerated for drug offenses. I am moving out of this country as millions already have to get away from this police state. The joke is the U.S government is the biggest drug dealer in the world, when Cheney was approached with a question of why in Afghanistan is the U.S. not destroying the poppy fields he replied, not enough manpower and money. What he did not say is that troops are used as security guards for the poppy fields.

  • galilei

    Janie, you're a fascist. The US doesn't have the highest per capita prison population in the world because we have the most crime. It is because we have a corrupt system.

    The news media scare us with crime stories and push us to want tougher laws, but every prisoner behind bars represents profits to the investor class. So, as in Nazi Germany, we lap up the 'law and order' excuses while people's whole lives are stolen from them, which provides the excuse for our tax money to flow to the already rich. The ones who own the companies that provide food, clothing and often personnel for the prisons. When was the last time you read a mainstream media article auditing one of those companies? That's right. Never. They're ripping us off wholesale.


  • Realist

    Get a job.