America’s fiscal priorities: Prisons over schools


Probably the ominous story we’ve read today, and an augury for a rapidly polarizing nation, comes from teleSUR English:

Funding for prisons greatly outpaced funding for education, according to a report released Thursday.

U.S. state and local spending on prisons and jails grew at three times the rate of spending on schools over the last 33 years as the number of people behind bars ballooned under a spate of harsh sentencing laws, a government report released Thursday said.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King said the report’s stark numbers should make state and local governments reevaluate their spending priorities and channel more money toward education.

Between 1979 and 2012, state and local government expenditure grew by 107 percent to US$534 billion from US$258 billion for elementary and secondary education, while corrections spending rose by 324 percent to US$71 billion from US$17 billion, the U.S. Department of Education report found.

In that same period, the population of state and local corrections facilities surged more than fourfold to nearly 2.1 million from around 467,000, more than seven times the growth rate of the U.S. population overall. The prison population shot up following the widespread adoption of mandatory minimum sentence laws in the 1990s.

Seven states—Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia—each exceeded the average rate, increasing their corrections spending five times as fast as they did their pre-kindergarten to grade 12 education spending.

In just two states—New Hampshire and Massachusetts—growth in corrections expenditure did not surpass P-12 expenditures, even after accounting for changes in population. The report did not analyze different state policies that could explain these exceptions, King said on a conference call.

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