State Spending on Higher Education and Corrections

on July 26, 2016

The U.S. Department of Education has issued a policy brief, State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education, which combines data from the National Center for Education Statistics with the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Key findings include:

  • From 1989-90 to 2012-13, state and local government spending on corrections has increased by 89 percent while spending on postsecondary education has remained flat overall.
  • From 1989-90 to 2012-13, per capita spending on corrections increased by 44 percent while per-FTE-student spending on postsecondary education decreased by 28 percent.
  • The growth in spending on corrections has been driven by an increase in the prison population.
  • Two-thirds of state prison inmates are high school dropouts.

The policy brief cites a paper by Lance Lochner and Enrico Moretti that estimates a 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates could yield a 9 percent decrease in criminal arrest rates. The brief also cites a report by RAND Corporation researchers that shows that high-quality correctional education may reduce three-year recidivism rates by 43 percent.

The bottom line is that it is cheaper to educate than to incarcerate.

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