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From Classrooms to Cell Blocks: A National Perspective

NCJ Number
Tara-Jen Ambrosio; Vincent Schiraldi
Date Published
17 pages
This study examines whether current criminal justice expenditures in the United States are increasing at the expense of funding for access to and improvement in the quality of higher education.
Cost data for public higher education and corrections (both the operating and construction costs) were obtained from the Census Bureau, Government Division. The total cost data do not include intergovernmental expenditures. All sources reviewed for this study reported a substantial increase in corrections spending and a significant decrease in public higher education spending over the past decade. The data for crime statistics and correctional populations were obtained from the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI. America has the highest incarceration rate in the Western world; yet we continue the biggest prison build-up in our history, while crime statistics remain stable. States cannot afford to implement these ineffective incarceration policies. Throughout the 1980's, State spending for corrections increased 95 percent while spending on higher education decreased 6 percent. National statistics show this trend continuing into the 1990's. In many States, expenditures for higher education are at an all-time low. As more and more prison cells are built, many of which will house an increasing number of nonviolent offenders, fewer colleges are being constructed. To date, the 1990's are not showing any changes in construction spending patterns. California and Florida are prime examples of the effects of a focus on increased corrections spending at the expense of spending on expanding and improving higher education services. Public opinion surveys showed that Americans are concerned that corrections budgets are detracting from funding for higher education and other social services. This paper recommends a moratorium on new prison construction and cutting the nonviolent inmate population in half over the next 5 years; a reallocation of prison construction funding from the 1994 Crime Act as seed funding for community corrections; widespread enactment of community corrections acts; a fiscal impact statement before implementing major crime policies; and investment in the future of children, families, and communities. 65 notes and 3 tables


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