Spending by state and local governments on correctional facilities has far outpaced that on education, increasing at triple the rate of funding for public schools from preschool through grade 12 in the last 30 years, a new brief by the U.S. Department of Education found.

From the school years 1979–80 to 2012–13, public Pre-K–12 expenditures increased by 107 percent from $258 to $534 billion, while total state and local spending on prisons and jails increased by 324 percent, from $17 to $71 billion.

The analysis showed that even when the data was adjusted for population changes, 23 states increased per capita spending on criminal detainment at more than double the rate of increases in per-pupil PK-12 spending. And, in seven states—Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Virginia—per capita spending increases on prisons were five times the increases for education.

School books with apple on desk

In the realm of higher education, the differences are even starker.Since 1990, while state and local higher education budgets have stagnated, spending on corrections has ballooned by 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,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a statement. “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 increase in correctional spending is largely in part to an explosion in the jail and prison population, fueled by minimum mandatory sentencing laws. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, from 1980 to 2014 the number of people incarcerated in state and local correctional facilities more than quadrupled from about 490,000 to over 2 million. And African Americans are disproportionately represented in this rising prison population, studies have shown.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO