Prison Spending vs University Spending

Institute Urges Change In Funding Priorities

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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

years.

 

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

Education.

 

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