Prison, Drug War Spending Rockets While Higher Education Funding Declines


William McGuinness

william.mcguinness@huffingtonpost.com

Prison Education Protest Spending

In 2012, both corrections spending and student debt hit $1 trillion milestones, leading higher education advocates to wonder how prison costs soak up education allocations, thus hurting the economy and limiting low income students’ access to campuses.

So far, President Obama and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney agreed on extending a low interest rate on federally subsidized student loans but have largely considered the increasing cost of college a state issue.

While campaigning, Obama likes to point out that his daughters are not yet college-aged, saying, “I can tell you with some experience that making higher education affordable for our young people is something that I’ve got a personal stake in.” In his State of the Union address this year, he proposed a $1 billion Race to the Top competition to reward colleges for controlling their own costs, but he’s been unable to secure congressional funding for it.

Meanwhile, Romney has suggested students could borrow money from their parents and shop around for the education at an appropriate cost, believing the colleges offering the best return on investment will flourish. Romney insists his economic plan would help students long-term, believing they would be more likely to get jobs after graduation and higher salaries to pay back their loans.

But neither candidate’s approach deals directly with the alarming increases in college costs, which have far outpaced the rate of inflation and made a college education possible for fewer people while the economy demands more skilled grads. While Obama has raised the issue, often on college campuses, their system presidents have already tightened their belts to a choking point. State governments dole out less money in appropriations and student grants each year, while spending on corrections are frequently increasing. Higher education advocates are compelled to join a rising criticism of the War On Drugs and its bloating effect on state prison budgets, which have matched or eclipsed higher ed budgets.

  • Vermont

    Spends $1.37 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • Michigan

    Spends $1.19 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • Oregon

    Spends $1.06 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • Connecticut

    Spends $1.03 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • Delaware

    Spends $1.00 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • And Now For The Schools That Spend More On College Than Prison

     

  • Minnesota

    Spends $.17 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • Alabama

    Spends $.23 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • Wyoming

    Spends $.23 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • North Dakota

    Spends $.24 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

  • Nebraska

    Spends $.28 on corrections for every dollar spent on higher ed.

The U.S. incarceration rate in 1980 was 220 for every 100,000 people, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Today, with more than 2 million people incarcerated, the rate has climbed to 743 per 100,000 people. Reason magazine’s Veronique de Rugy points out nonviolent drug offenders account for “roughly one-fourth of all inmates in the United States, up from less than 10 percent in 1980.”

In roughly the same period, state governments scaled back their financial support for public colleges by more than a third nationwide, between 1991 and 2008. And as states have chopped away at appropriations for their universities and cut need-based grant aid for students, the Government Accountability Office found both public and private schools are becoming increasingly reliant on what students pay in tuition and fees for funding. Last year, some students saw tuition increases as high as 40 percent.

The thinking goes that a long-term reprioritizing of state budgets away from prison spending and toward higher education would not only promote a greater society but would increase social mobility while innovating state economies through the public university system.

Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger went so far as to propose a constitutional amendment to ensure prison spending didn’t outpace what they doled out to public universities. He summarized his state’s expensive higher education system and its failing prison system:

Thirty years ago, 10 percent of the general fund went to higher education and only 3 percent went to prisons. Today, almost 11 percent goes to prisons and only 7.5 percent goes to higher education. Spending 45 percent more on prisons than universities is no way to proceed into the future.

“The priorities have become out of whack over the years … What does it say about any state that focuses more on prison uniforms than on caps and gowns?” Schwarzenegger said in 2010. “It simply is not healthy.”

According to the Pew Center, from 1987 to 2007, nationwide spending on corrections increased by 127 percent, while there was only a 21 percent increase in spending on higher education.

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3 thoughts on “Prison, Drug War Spending Rockets While Higher Education Funding Declines

  1. The situation in the US is the same as in Sicily in 1960s. I’ve been studying Cosa Nostra and this is how the Mafia grew there. This is from social reformer Danilo Dolci – nicknamed the Sicilian Gandhi for his efforts to bring sensible change to the island.
    In a cost benefit analysis, Dolci noted that it cost 13,000,000 lire per month to pay for the prison service, security forces and police force on Sicily, yet there was no provision for relief for families of men in prison or who had been killed. In less than 10 years over 4 ½ billion lire was spent on repressive actions while over 4000 people were unemployed. In the main bandit area of Sicily (this includes Partinico, Trappeto and Montlepre with a combined population of approximately 33,000) only a single one of the 350 outlaws from the area was raised in a family with both parents reaching past the third elementary grade of school. The mafiosi spent 650 years at school compared to more than 3000 years in prison.

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