State and Local Spending On Prisons Has Grown Three Times as Fast as Spending on Schools, Says New Report

Young black males without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed.


Alexandre Vanier / Pixaby

According to a new report from the Department of Education, spending over the past three decades by state and local governments on prisons and jails has grown three times as fast as spending on public education.

Based on data collected between 1979 and 2013, state and local expenditures for education from preschool through grade 12 increased by 107 percent. In comparison, state and local expenditures for corrections grew by 324 percent.

While the report notes these increases are much smaller when collected data is adjusted for population change, corrections still outpaced education spending in all but two states. In 24 states, there was a growth rate in per capita corrections spending more than 100 percent higher than per pupil education spending.

The two states where public education spending increased more than correctional spending were New Hampshire and Massachusetts, yet it was not by much; the differences were 1 and 2 percent, respectively.

Why the stark differences in spending? One of the biggest factors that the report notes is the growth in the number of people being sent to prisons and jails. The report specifically mentions data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics showing that the number of people incarcerated in state and local facilities more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2014. This dramatic increase is, as the study claims, "due in part to the enactment of additional, often lengthy mandatory minimum sentence laws."

What may be unsurprising to many is that certain groups were disproportionately affected. As the report states:

Even for offenses for which there are few differences by race or ethnicity in the likelihood of committing a crime, individuals of color—black youth in particular—are more likely than white individuals to be arrested and receive longer sentences for the same offenses (CEA 2015). For example, black males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males, and black students are about two times more likely to receive a referral to law enforcement or be subject to a school-related arrest than white students (Pew Research Center 2013; OCR 2016). Additionally, children with incarcerated parents face an increased risk of a variety of adverse outcomes, including antisocial and violent behavior and lower educational attainment (Johnson 2009).

The paper also observes a relationship between poor classroom performance and incarceration:

Among state prison inmates, available data suggests that two-thirds have not completed high school (BJS 2009). Young black males between the ages of 20 and 24 who do not have a high school diploma (or an equivalent credential) have a higher chance of being incarcerated than of being employed (Neal and Rick 2014).

The report concludes by arguing for state and local governments to shift some funds away from incarceration and toward education investment—not exactly surprising considering the source. Some of the policies proposed include increasing teacher salaries, increasing access to high-quality preschools, and providing education opportunities to those already incarcerated.

While the Education Department argues that graduation rates rise when education funding increases, Reason's Nick Gillespie has pointed out that this doesn't necessarily increase academic success. Being enrolled in school doesn't do a person any extra good if he doesn't gain anything from being in the classroom.

What's interesting is that sentencing reform was not mentioned as a policy suggestion in the report. As Families Against Mandatory Minimums explains, those rules have a major influence on how people are sentenced and are at least partially responsible for America's growing prison population. Plus, the federal government has just as much—if not more—say in this realm as states do.

Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, did talk about the impact of mandatory minimums in a press call on the report Thursday. "We know mass incarceration is not good for our country and does not make us safer," she said. "It is long past time for us to come together across party lines at the federal level and do something about it."

(CORRECTION: The growth in spending, not the raw spending total, was three times as high for prisons and jails as for schools.)

NEXT: Dysfunctional Criminal Justice System the Star of HBO's The Night Of

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  1. Clearly, we don’t spend anywhere near enough on schools.

    1. My thoughts exactly. We need to triple spending on schools to even things out.

    2. America spends far, far more on schools than prisons.

      Blacks get arrested more because they commit more crimes — pure and simple. That’s shown by the Justice Department’s (and BJS’s) own statistics. The murder rate is eight times higher among blacks than among non-Hispanic whites. See Wikipedia, “Race and Crime in the United States.” 51% all murders are committed by blacks, who are just 13% of the population. See Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2014 Uniform Crime Reports: Crime in the United States, Table 43A, Arrests by Race, 2014.

      So the report cited in the article proves nothing by noting that “black males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males, and black students are about two times . . to be subject to a school-related arrest than white students.” A 2014 study shows black students are much more likely to misbehave in school (it’s discussed in this article, at )

      The above article fails to question the false claim that “Even for offenses for which there are few differences by race or ethnicity in the likelihood of committing a crime, individuals of color?black youth in particular?are more likely than white individuals to be arrested and receive longer sentences for the same offenses.” This is just not true (there are few such offenses for which there are no substantial differences by race in offense rate, and longer sentences reflect non-discriminatory factors such as having more prior offenses of other types).

  2. They should be spending very little on either.

    1. The triangle of state budgets is prisons, schools, healthcare. Everything else is funded from change found in couch cushions. If you want to spend more on one, it has to come from the other two. Also note that the funding leaves out community colleges and state colleges, which are probably a significant fraction of the state educational budget.

  3. Hey, the less we spend brain-washing the kids, the better.

  4. The actual take away from this is “Anything run by the State is absurdly expensive and inefficient”

    however, the only purpose of the comparison is for the hacks involved to feel activists a headline they can use to demand “More Money for Schools”

    The idea that maybe we should consider reducing the costs of incarceration by not-jailing victim-less criminals will occur to exactly no one.

    1. “feed activists”

  5. So cut spending on both.

    Fuck public sector unions.

    1. its notable that prisons spend such a huge amount per-capita, despite there being no ‘constituency’ for criminals….

      …when its really the fact that, unlike public-schools, “No one’s looking” – so the state can dump massive amounts of general-revenue gelt into their unions without anyone making a fuss. It all gets written off as “tough on crime”.

      Whereas the money for schools is mostly property-taxes = and raising those? gets fucking noticed super-fast, and results in hellfire and brimstone from voters.

      1. You two should be ashamed of yourselves, talking like this during a War on Cops.

  6. Young black males without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed.

    My wild and crazy idea: you should probably get a fucking high school diploma!

    1. Young black males are more likely to be incarcerated than employed.

    2. Maybe we should just round all of the young black males up and keep them away from society until they have a high school diploma? Would that make the half wits who wrote this article feel better?

    3. They sell them on line.

      1. But if you don’t have a diploma, you don’t know how to use the internet.

        It’s a vicious cycle.

  7. How else would we get our license plates for our cars?

  8. They probably spent more on prisons than they did on a lot of other things. So what? This is a stupid comparison. I agree that the states spend too much money on prisons and jail too many people. This, however, is a completely stupid way to try and show that. The states spend too much on education too. More importantly, even if they spent more on education than they do on prisons, it wouldn’t make any difference because every bit of credible evidence we have on the subject shows there is no correlation between educational funding and educational achievement.

    Libertarians are supposed to be smarter than this.

    1. “Forget it, he’s rolling.”

    2. Because sometimes perspective helps. We spend too much on education. We spend three times that on prisons. Qualitatively, prisons may be a more valid government function than education. But quantitatively? Both are problematic. I don’t have a problem with pointing this out.

      One of Russ Roberts’s ongoing points in his excellent EconTalk podcast is how bad people are at considering absolutes, especially for government spending.

      1. I meant three times the rate, not amount.

  9. Maybe we could make all of the prisons schools. Then when people got locked up they would really be going to school.

    1. I think that’s how it already works .

      1. Then maybe we need to be sending more young people to prison.

        /I swear to God someone out there actually thinks this way and is in a position of authority.

    2. All kidding aside, this is a pretty damn good idea! You get out of jail when you can the pass the tests that give you the equivalent of a high school diploma.

      1. If you did it for actual criminals, it would be a bit unfair to stupid people. Some smart guy could murder someone and get out in no time by passing the test. Some stupid person would go in on shoplifting and never get out.

      2. They do offer GED programs in Florida prisons. Its getting the people who didn’t see the point of going to high school, or lacking the moral fiber to get themselves to school, to see the point of the GED that’s the problem. I knew the guy who ran that program back in 2004 when I worked as a contractor at FLDOC. He was a retired Army CSM, and he really, really wanted to get every last man incarcerated a GED if they lacked a diploma or a GED.

  10. “According to a new report from the Department of Education,”

    The department of education wants more money for education. Details at 11.

  11. Good luck getting anyone to talk about mandatory minimums. MMs are hiding in all kinds of places and as a result tend to follow in favor by particular consituencies:

    18 U.S.C. ? 924(c) MANDATORY MINIMUMS

    ? 924(C)?IF, DURING AND IN


    2nd offense


    1. I actually don’t have a problem with locking people who use a gun in a violent crime up for a long time. You go out and start robbing people and putting a gun in their face, you get what you deserve. The problem, as usual, is with the drug war. That provision is used to destroy the lives of anyone caught with drugs and a gun. Even if you think that drugs should be illegal, what the hell difference does it make if the person selling them has a gun or not? Is the evil cocaine less addictive if you buy it from an unarmed dealer?

      1. Read the text carefully “or a drug trafficking crime” coupled with “or with a silencer or muffler”.

        What happens is someone with just enough drugs on them gets the ‘with intent to distribute’ tacked on, and then if you have this scary thing called a silencer found in your trunk, bam, 30 year sentence– even though no violent crime occurred.

  12. I think the pendulum may be swinging toward Lower Sentences for Everyone.

    Reason of course distinguishes between Prisoners of the Drug War and people locked up for rape, murder and burglary, but even at Reason this nuance sometimes gets lost in talk of overincarceration.

    In practice, they’ll reduce the sentences across the board, back to the good old 1970s of violent offenders serving derisorily short sentences, rather than releasing the nonviolent offenders.

    And so on until the backlash, when sentences will be increased across the board again for violent and nonviolent offenders, and so forth.

    1. Because society is now retarded, that is probably a good bet. In response to people spending life in prison for the crime of selling drugs or having the wrong dirty pictures on their computer, we will let actual violent criminals out of jail and probably still keep the drug and porn offenders locked up.

    2. I think adjusting the maximum sentence to the average plea bargain would be a good start.

  13. “Based on data collected between 1979 and 2013, state and local expenditures for education from preschool through grade 12 increased by 107 percent. In comparison, state and local expenditures for corrections grew by 324 percent.”

    Though the rate of spending on prisons increased at three time the rate of school spending increases, the baseline is extremely important. I have seen numbers that show that school spending exceeds prison spending by huge factors.

    Reason, your headline is very misleading, and unfortunately, I think it is intentionally so.

    1. This. The linked report said that spending increased three times as fast, but that is not at all the same as three times as much spending.

    2. After a quick Google check:

      Estimated government education spend, which includes Fedgov spending—$620,000,000,000.
      Estimated prison spending—$55,000,000,000 to $60,000,000,000.

      Even if the sources I looked at were completely skewed, the numbers don’t support the headline.

      1. There are appx. 1,900,000 public school students in Penna. and 88,000 prisoners. I find it hard to believe even our prolific governments are spending more on prisoners than pupils.

    3. For the record, this is what I mean by *sigh*

      I thought this discrepancy was obvious to all and I expected all of these comments to be calling Alex out.

      1. I agree that the discrepancy was obvious. My concern is that “Libertarians” (not meaning to collectivize,) are accused of not having the facts straight or understanding what it takes to run a society. It behooves us to make sure “we” have our facts correct on make good arguments. SJW’s and party hacks of both stripes are constantly looking for mistakes to throw in the faces of libertarians. We need to be sure we don’t give them any more ammunition by making obviously foolish statements.

        Obligatory—What’s this we shit?

    4. Agree. Though they can’t help it because SJW is strong at Reason

      Reason seems to often just parrot government reports as though the same government which spies on us, takes our money and orders us around would not put out a report without spinning it to their advantage

      1. I didn’t study the report. It may have made mistakes as well. But it at least distinguished between spending increases and absolute spending.

        A tip to the intern. Always find out the *absolute numbers* involved, and make sure that you understand any percentages used in light of those absolute numbers.

        1. Another point, since he’s probably catching plenty of shit in regards to this….

          …whenever you see people making claims about “Spending”, make sure you understand what the sources of the respective revenue are, and the relative influence of *that*.

          the narrative the headline tries to pump is that “govt has wrong priorities”.

          But the fact is that different levels of Govt do not have limitless discretionary controls over all things in equal ways. As noted above = education-spending growth is strongly connected to property-taxes. Prison-spending is often connected to entirely different drivers, and isn’t necessarily constrained the same way.

    5. Yep. This is incompetent. If you click on the author you find that “Alex Thomas is the summer 2016 Burton C. Gray Memorial Intern.”

      Pretty much every other sentence in the beginning of the article is *false* because of his failure to distinguish total spending from spending increases.

      State and Local Governments Spent Three Times As Much On Prisons Than Schools, Says New Report

      According to a new report from the Department of Education, state and local governments have spent three times as much for prisons and jails over the past three decades than on public education.

      While the report notes these increases are much smaller when collected data is adjusted for population change, corrections still outpaced education spending in all but two states.

      This should have pinged his bullshit detector, as education spending is usually the biggest chunk of state and local spending. If he had read a couple of paragraphs down in the article *that he linked*, he would have seen the absolute numbers.

      From 1979?80 to 2012?13, public PK?12 expenditures increased by 107 percent
      (from $258 to $534 billion),4 while total state and local corrections expenditures
      increased by 324 percent (from $17 to $71 billion) ? triple the rate of increase in
      education spending.

      Reason often embarrasses itself with it’s grown up writers, but that’s usually intellectual dishonesty, not getting basic facts entirely wrong

  14. Couldn’t prisons just be more expensive to operate overall?

    1. Gee, you think so? It might be a little bit more expensive to run a place that keeps people forcibly confined there at all times?

      1. Just my apples to oranges math here: students are only in school 8 hours a day 5 times a week, with several months off, while prisons are open all day every day and can’t even expel their trouble makers. *Only* getting 3X the funding is the real outrage here!

    2. Ugh. I was visiting one last weekend. My father in law is doing 6-8 for stealing from his employer. We got the “good” guards, and every damn one of them was a fat slob lacking much personality at all. I say the good guards, because my fil was able to ask them a question about mail and get an actual answer that might help him get his damn newspaper. But fuck me. I would not be good at prison.

      1. Even in the case of your Father in law, is six to eight years really justice? Granted, he is guilty of a real crime. Stealing is a crime and you should go to jail for it. But what is the point of sending him to prison for that long other than mindless revenge? If he is a second time offender, sure. But at that point he has proven himself to be a continuing threat to society and locking him up apparently the only way to keep him from stealing. But a first time offender? Wouldn’t six months in the can and taking back all of the money he stole and marking him as a criminal theif for life accomplish exactly the same thing as sticking him there for 8 years?

        We have an absolutely barbaric criminal justice system in this country.

        1. That one UCLA criminologist who hates Sollum pointed out in his book that the deterrent effect of prison goes down after six months. Immediacy and certainty of punishment matter more.

        2. Plus, the longer someone is in prison, the more they will become a shell of a human who only knows how to function in the prison environment. Their family and friendship bonds are more likely to deteriorate with every year of incarceration, putting them in a position where they have no place to go after release.

          I’ve heard a lot of inmates say that as soon as they get out, they’re going to commit a crime so they can come back to prison, where at least they get a roof over their head, three meals a day, and medical care.

  15. Next up…the report about how many students you could educate for the price of one nuclear missile, then start selling these hippie bumper stickers again.

    1. That and COEXIST go in some kind of special ring of honor in the “Prog bumper sticker Hall of Fame.”

      1. I’ve seen very few good bumper stickers, but I kind of like “Forget World Peace, Visualize Using Your Turn Signal”

        1. I always liked “My Kid beat up your honor student”.

        2. “Hillary for Prison 2016” is a good one (yes, I’ve actually seen one IRL).

      2. “Prog bumper sticker Hall of Fame.”

        Arms are for Hugging

  16. “State and Local Governments Spent Three Times As Much On Prisons Than Schools, Says New Report”

    I would be a great deal more concerned by this headline if there was any indication at all that what was wrong with the Public School Systems in this country was lack of funding.

    1. We need to close down all of the prisons and completely eliminate the military and spend all of the money on schools. Wouldn’t that be great?

  17. State and Local Governments Spent Three Times As Much On Prisons Than Schools, Says New Report

    Aren’t they the same thing?

    1. Probably learn more useful skills in prison

    2. Government Schools are PrePrison.

    3. They’re very similar: they’re both inefficient government institutions, you can’t go anywhere without a permission slip, you are subjected to violence from your peers but you’ll get in trouble for defending yourself, and the meals are worse than boiled dog food.

  18. Uhh, Alex: 3x the growth rate =/= “spending three times as much”

    Stay in school, kid.

    1. That just proves that schools are under funded.

  19. RE: State and Local Governments Spent Three Times As Much On Prisons Than Schools, Says New Report
    Young black males without a high school diploma are more likely to be incarcerated than employed.

    Well, this only make sense.
    We do live in a police state, so what’s the problem?
    Putting people in prison, especially black people, solves many problems for The State and both political parties.
    After all, putting people in prisons is easier than educating them.
    This way The State can control us, and that’s what it’s really all about, control.
    The only issue with this report is that it shows the inherent racism by our obvious betters enslaving us all.
    But we must ignore that important fact otherwise the little people will see that the Emperor is wearing no clothes, sort of speak.
    We must overlook the fact that most of our benevolent slavers and oppressors live in segregated and/or gated communities in order to stay away from the untermenschen they promised so many times to improve their lives. But at least we can all find comfort knowing our socialist sociopaths in both parties send their kids to private schools and will always make sure their offspring never see the inside of a jail or prison cell when they break the law.
    Those are just one of many perks that our fair, just and egalitarian socialist masters in power enjoy to show how they are so much better than all us little people.
    Doesn’t that just bring a tear to one’s eye?

  20. uptil I saw the paycheck four $4289 , I have faith that my mom in-law could actualie bringing in money part-time at there computar. . there sisters neighbour had bean doing this 4 only about thirteen months and by now paid for the mortgage on there condo and bought a brand new Alfa Romeo .?????????

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