This is a story of recklessness. According to the California Budget Project, California will spend "$62,000 on each prison inmate in 2014-15--almost 7 times the $9,200 it will spend for each K-12 student." New York and Minnesota will each spend nearly 4 times the amount per inmate than they spend per student; for the remaining 47 states, the trend is largely the same.
Moreover, over the years, spending on incarceration has increased. According to the NAACP, “the number of people incarcerated in America quadrupled from roughly 500,000 to 2.3 million” over the last four decades. Likewise, the share of state funding for prisons grew “more than any other category of state spending” during the fiscal year 2008-2009. And for 33 of the 50 states, states spent more on corrections in 2009 than they had in the previous year. This is especially alarming when you consider that state spending on K-12 and higher education has decreased in recent years.
Now, at least 30 states provide less funding per student for K-12 education than before the recession (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities). Cuts to higher education are even more drastic – the average state “has cut higher education funding per student by 23% since the recession hit, after adjusting for inflation”. And in 2013, eleven states spent more on corrections than on higher education. In other words, states are spending an increased proportion of their budgets on prisons and corrections, and are cutting spending for education. In reality, this means taxpayers spend millions to imprison people, meanwhile, schools close, teachers are let go, sports and arts afterschool programs are cut, higher education costs rise, and classrooms become more crowded.
Why are incarceration rates increasing? Why do states continue to spend so much more on incarceration than on education? Given the continued decline in crime in the United States, surely the answer is not that there are more violent criminals out there than ever before that need to be locked up. Instead, one possibility is that states are spending so much money on prisons because they fail to provide high-quality education early on.
An NAACP report examines the relationship between “high-incarceration communities” and “low-performing schools”, and found the following results.
- In Los Angeles, 69 out of the 90 low-performing schools (67%) are in neighborhoods with the highest incarceration rates.
- In Philadelphia, 23 of the 35 low-performing schools (66%) are clustered in or very near neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarceration.
- In Houston, 5 of the 6 low-performing schools (83%) are in neighborhoods with the highest rates of incarceration.
Cities are overspending on incarceration, and under investing in children. Former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm said, “It’s not good public policy to take all of these taxpayer dollars at a very tough time and invest it in the prison system when we ought to be investing it in the things that are going to transform the economy, like education”. Rather than spending on prison populations, states should spend more to educate their populace. Investing more in education is “associated with increased earning, lower unemployment, less use of public assistance, and increased voter participation… when more people attend college, governments can see increased tax revenues with more vibrant local communities”, according to the NAACP report.
One massive way to cut spending on corrections is to eliminate the death penalty. There have been numerous studies on this topic, and each one has found that death penalty cases are at least $1 million more than cases in which the prosecutor seeks an alternative sentence. The following bullets represent just a few studies which show this trend.
- A Duke University study of North Carolina’s death penalty found that the state would save $11 million each year if prosecutors sought an alternative punishment to the death penalty.
- A 2008 study released by the Urban Institute predicted that “the lifetime cost to taxpayers for the capitally-prosecuted cases in Maryland since 1978 will be $186 million”, costing $3 million for a single death penalty case, which is $1.9 million more than a non-death penalty case.
- A report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice in 2008 found that “the additional cost of confining an inmate to death row, as compared to the maximum security prisons where those sentenced to life without possibility of parole ordinarily serve their sentences, is $90,000 per year per inmate. With California’s current death row population of 670, that accounts for $63.3 million annually.”
States could save millions of dollars each year by abolishing the death penalty. There’s no doubt that death penalty cases are more expensive than non-death penalty cases, and that the use of the death penalty is a strain on state resources.
The NCADP believes that by redirecting death penalty dollars, we can help to reduce crime, improve our communities, and save money. Specifically, those dollars could be reallocated towards early childhood education or towards programs that work to increase high school graduation rates for at-risk youth. Abolishing the death penalty in the United States is an important component of crime reduction, criminal justice reform and smarter spending overall.
The NCADP has created the 90 Million Strong Campaign to unite the voices of those who believe the death penalty is wrong. We need to demonstrate that the broad public support to end this practice is already here in America, and 90 million people speaking up can make a difference.