Prison Spending vs University Spending
Institute Urges Change In Funding Priorities
By Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 24 1997; Page A12
The Washington Post
More money is being spent in this country building prisons than building
universities, according to an analysis of state and federal budget
priorities released yesterday.
From 1987 to 1995 state government expenditures on prisons increased by 30
percent while spending on higher education fell by 18 percent, said the
study, which was conducted by the Justice Policy Institute, a research and
advocacy organization based in Washington.
Many states are rapidly expanding prison facilities while the size of
their college-age population has remained static for several years. The
study found that in 1995, spending by states on prison construction
increased by $926 million nationwide while building funds for higher
education decreased by an almost equal amount.
"These findings prove that, in the funding battle between prisons and
universities, prisons are consistently coming out on top," said Vincent
Schiraldi, director of the policy institute.
The report, by Schiraldi and Tara-Jen Ambrosio, argues that "prisons are
not only costly and ineffective for most nonviolent offenders, they also
siphon funding from vital programs such as higher education."
The report recommends a moratorium on new prison construction and a 50
percent reduction in the nonviolent prisoner population over the next five
From 1980 to 1994 the number of adults in prison nationwide tripled from
320,000 to 992,000, according to the Justice Department. This increase in
the corrections population and the accompanying growth in prison
construction occurred in an era marked by historically high crime rates.
During this period lawmakers across the country enacted longer sentences
for many crimes, including nonviolent drug offenses, and police agencies
increased the number of people they arrested for selling drugs,
particularly during the crack epidemic of the late 1980s.
Over the same period, enrollment in institutions of higher education
increased from 12 million to 14.7 million people, marking a 22 percent
increase overall and a small but steady increase in the proportion of the
college-age population that was enrolled, according to the Department of
Taking construction spending as a measure of governmental priorities, the
Justice Policy Institute study noted that California has built 21 prisons
since 1984 and only one new university.
Looking at overall budgets, the study found that both California and
Florida state governments now spend more on their prison systems than on
their public universities, while a decade ago higher education budgets
were considerably larger than those for correctional institutions. In both
those states and many others public universities have increased tuition to
make up for losses in state funding, so students now pay a larger share of
the cost of their education.
(c) Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company