Prison vs. Princeton: America Spends More on Jails than on Education

Barry Lenson

Prison vs. Princeton: America Spends More on Jails than on Education

America Spends More on Jails than on Education “Chart: One Year of Prison Costs More Than One Year at Princeton,” a new article in The Atlantic, delivers some alarming news . . .

America is spending far more on prisons than it is spending on education.

Maybe that doesn’t shock you. But it certainly shocks us. Here are some statistics that the article cites . . .

  • Annual tuition at Princeton University is currently $37,000. Yet it costs New Jersey $44,000 a year to house and feed each inmate in the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
  • California spends $48,214 to house and feed each inmate in its prison system. It currently spends $7,463 on each college student.
  • Virtually every state in the nation spends more to incarcerate its citizens than to educate them. The states where inmate spending outruns educational spending the most are New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, Michigan, Oregon, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona.
  • The United States ranks sixth in the world in the rate of degree attainment, and first in the world in the rate of incarceration.
  • Only 40.3% of all Americans have university degrees, compared to 54% of Russians. Yet .743% of all Americans are in jail, vs. .577% of all Russians.
  • The United States is home to 5% of the world’s population. Yet we house more than 25% of all the world’s prisoners – more than 2 million in all.

The fact that America spends more on prisons than on education is nothing less than a recipe for national failure. Even though prison reform is not an issue that political candidates like to address – it makes them appear to be “soft on crime” - it is time for change. After all, a lot of America’s prisoners are being incarcerated on minor drug offenses. Others are white-collar criminals who pose no immediate threat to their communities and who could be served in probation programs, not housed in expensive facilities. Still other prisoners have not even been convicted of crimes. They are simply in prison awaiting trial.

And here’s another thought. Shouldn’t there be some overlap between the prison and college populations? Wouldn’t educating inmates while they are in prison and helping them find jobs after release be better than releasing them to join America’s ranks of unemployed?

This article is a real eye-opener that should get a lot of Americans writing to their elected officials to demand prison reform, if only to redeploy tax dollars to students, where they will do the most good.

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