10 States That Spend More on Prisons Than Education

Education spending is vital to the livelihood and well-being of every state, and so is prison spending. But in some states, prisons seem to be more important, taking up more funding in state budgets than K-12 and college education spending. Often, the money for both comes out of the same general fund, so money spent on prisons is money that's taken from education, trading prisoner comfort for student education. Experts point out that this is a dangerous situation, as failing to effectively educate students may very well have those same students turning to crime later in life, putting further financial burden on the budget of state prisons, and impairing their lives. Which states are in the highly dangerous situation of spending more on prisons than education? Read on to find out.

  1. California:

    California is often cited as the worst offender when it comes to spending more on corrections than education, and it's no wonder why: the state spent $9.6 billion on prisons in 2011, but just $5.7 billion on higher education. Overall, the state spends $8,667 for each student, but about $50,000 per inmate, per year. And in the last 30 years, California has built one new college campus, but 20 new prisons. In the high-crime neighborhoods of LA, things are especially bad. More than a billion dollars are spent each year to keep residents from high-crime neighborhoods in LA, but the LA Unified School District had a deficit of $640 million in the 2010 to 2011 school year, resulting in layoffs and larger class sizes.

  2. Vermont:

    Vermont has been called out for spending more on prisons than education, to the tune of $1.37 per inmate for every $1 spent on students in the state. In 2011, the state spent roughly $92 million on education, overshadowed by the $111.3 million spent on prisons. In Vermont, each inmate costs nearly $50,000 annually. The state's prison population has doubled in size over the past decade and is expected to increase three times as fast as the general resident population over the next decade.

  3. Pennsylvania:

    In 2009, the School District of Philadelphia fell $147 million short of its budget after losing $160 million in state funding, but at the same time, Philly taxpayers spent almost $290 million on prisons for residents from 11 of Philadelphia's neighborhoods. The balance of money for prisons vs. education is bad in Philadelphia, but it's not great in the rest of the state, either. Prisons in Pennsylvania edged out education by a million dollars, with $2.1 billion going to corrections and $2 billion for education. It costs more than $42,000 per year to keep a Pennsylvanian inmate in prison.

  4. Delaware:

    For such a small state, Delaware spends quite a bit of money on its inmates: $32,967 per year, per inmate. So much so, that the expense not only matches, but exceeds what the state spends on education. In 2011, Delaware spent $212.5 in state monies for education, and $215.2 million on prisons. However, if you take away the $3.5 million spent on inmate education and training that could have been used for schoolkids and higher education, they're just about even.

  5. Rhode Island:

    Another tiny state with a huge prison budget, Rhode Island spent $172.1 million on prisons in 2010. That's over $10 million more than the state contributed to education, with $161.9 billion of Rhode Island's education budget coming from the state. The small state spends more than $49,000 for each inmate every year.

  6. New York:

    In New York State, it seems that inmates have it pretty good. The state spends a whopping average of $56,000 per year, per inmate. But students don't enjoy the same luxuries, with $40,000 less per person as their education is funded with just $16,000 per year from the state. New York has the honor of being the state that spends the least on education. On average, states spend 36% of their budget on education, but New York spends just 28%.

  7. Michigan:

    Michigan keeps inmate costs lower than other states, with $28,570 spent on each prisoner per year. But at the same time, students aren't getting much financial help from the state, either, with just $9,575 per year in average spending for each student. In fact, prisoners are able to take advantage of amenities like free health care, cable TV, access to a library, free sports programs, and even funding to earn a degree. Yes, you read that right: Michigan won't dish out enough money to help regular students, but they'll help foot the bill for inmates to get a college education.

  8. Georgia:

    Amid talks of education funding cuts, Georgia's students are already suffering financially compared to the funding that inmates get. Georgia has the fourth largest prison system in the US, and inmate spending far outstrips that of student spending. The state spends $18,000 per year to house just one inmate, but only $3,800 for K-12 students. College students are allotted $6,300, but that's still just over a third of what the state has to spend for each Georgia inmate.

  9. Arizona:

    In Arizona, prisons are a higher priority than education. In fact, they're a 40% higher priority. About 10 years ago, the state spent 40% more on universities than on prisons, but these days, the tables have turned: Arizona now spends 40% more on prisons than universities. How did this happen? Prison funding has gone up by 75% in the last 10 years, while university funding has declined 11%. Experts say that this spending imbalance is largely related to who's in prison, and how long they stay. All non-violent offenders in Arizona are required to serve at least 85% of their sentence. They're the only state in the country to do so, and it's a major factor in driving up prison costs.

  10. Washington:

    Washington State spends a pretty generous amount on public school students, with a $1.5 billion budget and a per-student expenditure of about $6,500. But compared to what the state spends on inmates, it's just a drop in the bucket. The state spends $34,500 per year, per inmate, five times as much money on prisons than schools. Experts in the state (and nationwide) are concerned that there's a "schools to prison pipeline,” with an emerging trend of lower rates of graduation and higher rates of incarceration.