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State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education

The U.S. Department of Education has published a policy brief comparing state and local funding for prisons and jails to support for K-12 education. Funding for prisons and jails has increased at three times the rate as spending on education. A modest increase in high school graduation rates may result in a decline in arrest rates.

The United States spends more than $80 billion annually on corrections. The Department’s new report suggests that a better path forward would be increasing investments in education—from early childhood through college—which could improve skills, opportunities, and career outcomes for at-risk children and youth, particularly if the additional funds are focused on high-poverty schools.

Key findings from the report include:

Over the past three decades, between 1979–80 and 2012–13, state and local expenditures for P–12 education doubled from $258 to $534 billion, while total state and local expenditures for corrections quadrupled from $17 to $71 billion.

All states had lower expenditure growth rates for P-12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections spending was more than 100 percentage points higher than the growth rate for education spending.

Even when adjusted for population changes, growth in corrections expenditures outpaced P-12 expenditures in all but two states (New Hampshire and Massachusetts).

Over the roughly two decades, between 1989–1990 and 2012–2013, state and local appropriations for public colleges and universities remained flat, while funding for corrections increased by nearly 90 percent.

On average, state and local higher education funding per full-time equivalent student fell by 28 percent, while per capita spending on corrections increased by 44 percent.

Investing more in increasing school success for disadvantaged children and youth could reduce disciplinary issues and reverse the school-to-prison pipeline. In addition, educational programs for incarcerated youth and adults could reduce recidivism and crime by developing skills and providing opportunities.

The full report can be found here.

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