U.S. Prison Population Soars as Education Spending Plummets

By Kate Randall / World Socialist Web Site  Image courtesy upworthy.com

The prison populations in most US states are at historic highs. Prisons in 36 US states incarcerate three times as many people as they did in 1978. State prison systems account for 87 percent of the total prisoner population, or roughly 1.3 million in 2013 compared to about 270,000 in 1978. But even as states spend more on prison operations, they are spending less on education for children and young adults, particularly in high-poverty neighborhoods.

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) paints a devastating picture of a polarized society in which the prison and police-military apparatus is being continually expanded while vital social programs are starved for funds. CBPP estimates that if state corrections spending had been held to mid-1980s levels, adjusted for inflation today the 50 US states would have about $28 billion more each year between them to allocate to non-prison related expenditures.

At least 30 states are spending less in general funding per student this year for K-12 schools than before the recession hit in 2008; 14 states have reduced funding by more than 10 percent. Spending cuts for higher education have been even deeper, with the average state spending 23 percent less per student since the recession. There is also a direct correlation between increased prison spending and education cuts, with many states with the highest incarceration rates making the deepest education cuts.

The growth of the prison population has far outpaced US population growth. In the late 1970s, states imprisoned around 120 individuals for every 100,000 residents. This rate peaked at 450 individuals per 100,000 in 2007, and has fallen only slightly since. Ten states—Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas—had incarceration rates exceeding 500 prisoners per 100,000 residents in 2013.

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