According to an infographic by The Public Administration, in most states, more money is spent on incarceration and corrections than on higher education. In fact, as the chart displays, it costs the state of New Jersey more money to incarcerate someone for a year than to fund a student’s tuition at Princeton. One year at Princeton University: $37,000. One year at a New Jersey state prison: $44,000.
The chart also shows that, compared to the rest of the world, the United States ranks sixth in terms of degree attainment but first in rate of incarceration. Out of all the states, California has the highest population, the most students in college, and the most people in prison; if it emptied its prisons today and sent every person incarcerated to a college or university, it would save almost $7 billion a year.
An article in The Atlantic about the infographic reveals some important shortcomings of the chart: “The comparison between higher education spending and correction spending highlighted in the following chart is not perfect. Universities have means to fund themselves; prisons rely on the government. So it makes some sense that a disproportional amount of money flows to the correction centers. Also, take note, comparing African Americans in college and African Americans in dorms is not completely fair. For one, college implies an 18-22 age range, and incarcerated adults can be of any age. Also, it doesn’t take into account African Americans who commute to school.”
Nevertheless, the study reveals a troubling reality. It concludes with the assertion: “The United State has less that 5% of the world’s population, yet we jail nearly 25% of its prisoners – more than 2 million total. Moreover, 1/4 of those prisoners are nonviolent offenders. We must re-prioritize our values as a society. Fund colleges, not prisons.”