PHOENIX — Arizona spends $20,000 more annually on each inmate than it does on a student in its school system, a federal report said.
The report from the U.S. Department of Education said, over the last three decades, the nation has increased penal spending at three times the rate of that spent on schools.
Arizona is no different. In 2015, the state spent $3,573 per K-12 pupil and $23,441 per inmate.
However, Dan Hunting, a senior policy analyst with the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, said it’s important to keep the report in perspective.
“We do spend a lot of money on incarceration,” he said. “Not as much as education, but still a significant amount of money.”
Hunting said Arizona’s education spending eats up a much larger portion of the state budget than prisons, but the report shines an interesting light on the disparity of each system’s budget increases in the last 30 years.
“We’ve reduced our education spending by about 26 percent, while our corrections expenditures is one of the few areas of the budget that is actually increased in spending relative to the size of the economy,” he said.
Hunting said the report should make Arizonans think about how the government is spending tax dollars.
“You’re getting some degree of increased public safety, for sure,” he said. “How much is a matter of some debate, especially if you’re talking about nonviolent offenders.”
Hunting also said the money spent on public education has a clear-cut return to Arizona.
“If somebody is educated and they get a better job, they’re paying more taxes, they’re making life better for everybody including themselves,” he said.
Key findings from the report include:
- Over the past three decades, between 1979–80 and 2012–13, state and local expenditures for P–12 education doubled from $258 to $534 billion, while total state and local expenditures for corrections quadrupled from $17 to $71 billion.
- All states had lower expenditure growth rates for P-12 education than for corrections, and in the majority of the states, the rate of increase for corrections spending was more than 100 percentage points higher than the growth rate for education spending.
- Even when adjusted for population changes, growth in corrections expenditures outpaced P-12 expenditures in all but two states (New Hampshire and Massachusetts).
- Over the roughly two decades, between 1989–1990 and 2012–2013, state and local appropriations for public colleges and universities remained flat, while funding for corrections increased by nearly 90 percent.
- On average, state and local higher education funding per full-time equivalent student fell by 28 percent, while per capita spending on corrections increased by 44 percent.
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