California’s Prison Costs Higher than the UC System

From the AP:

The cost of housing state prison inmates has grown so much in the past decade that California now spends more incarcerating 167,000 adults than it does to educate 226,000 students in its 10-campus University of California system.

“In what civilized state or country do you spend more on prisons than on higher education?” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento. “That’s a compelling argument to vote for reform.”

Economics is about making choices with scarce resources. What does the above say about California’s choices? What are the pros and cons of spending more on incarceration than education? What are the long- and short-run trad-offs.

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31 Responses to “California’s Prison Costs Higher than the UC System”


  1. 1 Ruby S August 24, 2009 at 11:57 AM

    This is truely ridiculous. I’m not sure when or how long it took for this to get so bad, and I completely agree that it is time for change.
    These prisoners do not deserve to be in a place with so many privelages; prison is supposed to be a place for punishment. I am not saying that they don’t deserve the basic human needs, but college students are actually trying to get an education which isn’t exactly affordable for everyone.
    It seems impossible that prisoners have priority over students.
    This is what California has come to?

  2. 2 Deb Snyder August 24, 2009 at 12:39 PM

    California is finding itself in a Catch 22. With the current laws in effect (such as Three Strikes), more non-violent offenders are going to, or being returned to prison. The current recidivism rate is over 70%. Costs to provide care for those that are incarcarated are sky-rocketing. The CDCR is under close scrutiny to revamp the system, but where do you start?

    What this says about Californians is that they are scared of the high crime rate and feel that by locking up felons, they will be safer.

    It is an interesting question to pose to someone: Given a dollar, would you rather pay to keep a non-violent convicted drug dealer inside of San Quentin, or pay for a student to attend UC Berkeley?

    On a side note, I would like to, with all due respect, point out to the previous poster that the incarcarated population as a whole receives very few privledges. My last job took me inside San Quentin on a regular basis. The conditions inside that prison hardly even fit the description of “basic human needs.”

    It is a sad state of affairs that decisions such as this need to be made.

  3. 3 alexandria horton August 24, 2009 at 9:15 PM

    I think that the focus should be on the education of the people, always! If people had more resources and education was more available to the lower class, there would be less crime. Most crimes are commited because of the population’s lack of money or education. The government tells us we need to go to school to ensure a valuable future and do right by societal standards and then asks young adults, single parents, poor, or downright out-of-luck individuals to reach deep into the lint of their pockets. Unfortunately, so many are unavailable to better their future due to the lack of money that they never break the cycle. The lack of job positions filled requiring thousands of dollars of education hurts us, for example the lack of doctors in an emergency room or those who accept medi-care. Or more on topic, teachers who spent half of their lives learning to teach others and who are being told to go and fill a waitress position instead, causing the overcrowded classrooms to flood and in return forcing students to go to a college that wasn’t their first choice. Those who actually want to do right are second guessing their positions in colleges because they don’t want to be in debt from student loans or they just can’t get their financial aid approved. Therefore returning them to run the streets in an economic crisis where their are little to no entry-level positions to fill. It does suck that their isn’t enough room in prisons for those who have had their chances and took the wrong path; but it sucks even worse for those who are trying to do the right thing and better themselves and the future of America.

  4. 4 Alanna Heaney August 25, 2009 at 8:03 AM

    I think this article is crazy. We are in a budget crisis where they are taking money from schools but yet we are giving all of this money to prisons for the inmates. There are so many people out there that want to go to school but can’t afford it but with the budget crisis and not as many scholarships and people not getting loans people aren’t going to school. I don’t think prisoners deserve this “luxury” they get in prison, they are there for a reason and I don’t understand why we are spending so much money on them. I think higher education is way more important than incarcerating someone, especially if they shouldn’t even be there.

  5. 5 Christopher Morris September 1, 2009 at 7:34 AM

    And people are wondering why we’re in so much debt? This is just one more thing to add to the list of very unwise choices this state and this nation as a whole have made. I understand people need to be incarcerated, but we need to find a cheaper way of doing it so that the youth of California can be educated. What good is it for us to be safe if we are uneducated? It’s ironic because maybe if some of the people that are incarcerated were educated they wouldn’t be there in the first place.

  6. 6 Gina September 1, 2009 at 7:35 AM

    I think that it is unbelievable California is spending more on prisoners than our students. College students need all the financial help they can get, because the cost of going to school has become practicly impossible to the average-income family. It is terrible that we are going through such bad economic times, but by spending more of its money on prisoners, California is sending a message that a higher education is less important. I deffinatly agree this must be changed.

  7. 7 Ben Petersen September 1, 2009 at 7:41 AM

    This does not seem right at all, but the article does not mention where all the spending takes place. Who said the prisoners were living a “luxurious” life. Before going off on how wrong this is, you have to look further into this and do research, finding out where all this money is going, and what exactly it is doing for the prisons.

  8. 8 Tiffany Molinar September 2, 2009 at 4:18 PM

    I think it’s pretty ridiculous that the state is spending more on prisons than on education, however it never points out where the money is being spent. It doesn’t say whether it’s for the people who are working in the prisons or if it’s spent on the food and upkeep on the prisons. It is sad that at this time (the recession of the economy) we are putting more money and focus into our prisons and ultimately the inmates, and I think our real focus should be on schools and our education. It just shows that we really need to pay closer attention to our spending and really think if what we are doing is right for our economy.

  9. 9 D. Colin Sorenson September 3, 2009 at 7:22 AM

    I agree with everyone that has posted that this is ridiculous. I am looking from an incentive-based bias and I am realizing that with all that money going into the prison system, why wouldn’t a person who isn’t doing well, looking into bankruptcy and what not, have to lose? What’s their motivation from not doing something illegal with intentions on going to prison? Homeless people would be getting a huge upgrade by getting thrown in prison. I know I’m going out on a limb here, but when people get into a depressed mood from bankruptcy, divorce, economy, unemployment, etc… what’s going to stop them from committing a crime to land in prison. In my own philosophy, I believe that we should cut the costs in a way that it is no longer beneficial for someone to gain off the prison system. In short, these situations may be irrational to the general public, but in all reality, stuff like this goes on everyday. In my opinion, people should not want to go to prison to better their situation. Prison should be the worst thing that can happen to someone. It almost feels as if we are, in a very out-stretched way, saying it’s O.K. to come to prison.

  10. 10 marie moussa September 7, 2009 at 2:21 PM

    California spends more money on prisoners than on education for students, this is unbelievable. Therefore, educating society helps citizens not to get to prison; California choices should be on spending more money on education. Prisoners should be forced to work and generate some income in order to participate in supporting the prison budget and expenses.

  11. 11 courtney brewer October 4, 2009 at 5:26 PM

    Sadly this is reality. If there weren’t so many criminals in the world we wouldn’t be having this problem, but unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about it because we live in a corrupt world. Personally, I would prefer it if all serial killers would be put to death in an old fashioned way such as firing squad or hanging. That way, California wouldn’t have to spend so much on the actual executions, and the prisons would be left with the more “light weight” felons. Basically, the truth is that there’s a lot of maintenance costs in prisons, apparently so much that the state is spending more on them than in the UC system. So, I think it would help a little if the state simply didn’t waste anytime holding hardcore murderers for 25 years and rather went back to the harsher methods. It would save money and serve justice.

  12. 12 kyle r October 12, 2009 at 2:53 PM

    we need to stop spending money on our prison systems that house drug attics and homeless who look to be put up for the night and get one that free meal. I know that mostly those types of inmates are in county jails but even the county jails are spending way to much money. if you want to spend money on prison spend it in education for the inmates. letting them sit in salutary confinement and letting their minds rot is shameful we don’t allow people to be given a second chance even if its not freedom. We are letting down our society when we release inmates into society with no skills other than teaching them to work like slaves in the laundry mate for 10cents an hour. California needs to make better choices there is no pro in spending more on incarceration than education

  13. 13 Carling November 8, 2009 at 12:12 PM

    I have to agree with Deb Snyder. California has found itself in a Catch 22. On one hand, the state needs to feed and care for the inmates because at the end of the day, they are people too. Yes, they have done bad things that made them end up in jail, but they need to eat a nutritious meal and be cared for. On the other hand, it is very important to give money to the schools. We need to educate children so they can get a great education and not end up in prison. After all, the younger generation will one day will be controlling our world and making these important decisions.

  14. 14 Nicole Hernandez November 17, 2009 at 9:01 AM

    It is disappointing to hear that more money is being spent on prisons then the UC system. Students work so hard to get an education and follow their dreams, when they can’t even get the help from their state, because they are spending more money on prisoners instead of students.

  15. 15 Karla Martinez November 23, 2009 at 8:54 AM

    The root of this problem is the fact that education is not provided from a young age to many of the people currently incarcerated. Research has shown that providing college education to inmates is not nearly as expensive as providing students like us with an education, and the recidivism rate does decrease. I think this is the only solution to decrease the number of prisoners in the long run. However, many people, especially students, are against this because they don’t feel it is fair for prisoners to recieve a free education while incarcerated when the rest of us have to pay for it ourselves. This education is indeed not free, because inmates have to work while incarcerated, and I would rather pay my way through college than live in the conditions that they do. This is a solution that would benefit us all in the long run because our population would be more educated and therefore we wouldn’t have to worry about crime as much. In the research I did, only inmates that qualify are given an education, and they must prove themselves the entire time by having a clean record while in prison. Many people might be against the state allocating money to this cause, however, the state is already spending a large amount to keep them incarcerated, and with no positive results to show for that money.

  16. 16 JoAnn Reynolds November 29, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    Well I can see where everyone here thinks that the money spent on our prison system is ridiculous, however the trade-off for us is that we release the criminals back into society, which would cut the costs, but are we willing to put our families at risk. I agree that there are some less violent crimes that are being punished with prison time, but do you really think if we release the criminal into society that has been convicted of a non-violent crime, such as drug dealing, would not those criminals have the opportunity then to become the more violent of commissions of crimes? Do we really want to take that chance with our lives and that of our families? Is that trade-off worth it? Would the government take that money saved from the release of those prisoners and inject it into the education system? I think not! The system is designed to give the less fortunate a chance to redeem themselves? I say no, any person convicted of a crime is not given the ability to re-enter society and become a productive member of that society so in response they return to what they know…CRIME! If our society was more forgiving and would allow more of them to re-enter and get jobs and live more productively I would say cut the prisons budget, but since this is not the case I say keep them in jail and budget the money more productively, perhaps more reform.

  17. 17 Hyo Kim November 30, 2009 at 1:14 AM

    I heard that few weeks ago, Oakland judge county realeased few hundred prisoners early due to their negative budget.
    Why they can’t balance their budget and make the whole oakland live in fear? I think government definitely need to reduce their spending for the unnecessisity things.

  18. 18 Samantha Fagundes December 4, 2009 at 4:04 PM

    It is ridiculous the amount that is being spent on prisons but I would want crazy rapists staying in a prison rather than them being let out on the streets. Nobody should have to take that risk. Although a lot more money should be focused on education at UC schools and every other school for that matter.

  19. 19 Vince Kaehler December 6, 2009 at 4:45 PM

    the prison system is very important and money needs to be put into it. I have visited the penitentiary system and i believe that they are given too many things that are not needed for survival. I believe that the only things that prisoners should have is food, clothing and shelter. everything else is not necessary and this would cut costs and the gov could then put more money into education.

  20. 20 Martin M December 6, 2009 at 8:25 PM

    Government wants to spend more on the prisons becasue they see it as a business. They can put an immate in and recieve money the next day. They are not only making money but also keeping their communities in control. That is where I see the government wanting to spend more on Prisons than on Education. They wouldn’t want to spend it on education however because the government does not even benefit from the students until they graduate, go to graduate, get their masters, etc. A good 13 to 20 years is when they begin to recieve the money that was spent on the education.

    I also would agree with a lot of what Carling had to say about the article.

  21. 21 Sarah Reddell December 6, 2009 at 10:29 PM

    Spending more on the prison system than on education is ridiculous. Although i do agree that we need protection and a prison system to hold inmates and those who may cause problems in our society, i feel we need to take a step back and truly think about where our money is going. It seems ludicrous to spend so much on those who have tried to harm our society while at the same time hindering many who want to get a higher education and give back to our state.

  22. 22 amos mccray-goldsmith December 7, 2009 at 12:53 AM

    it is so sad that we have to pay more for keeping peple out of society than to prepare them for being part of it. but maybe if we spent more now on schooling as a result more people would come out with degrees and there would be less people inclined to do crime in the future. this would require a massive influx of cash into the UC system and that would then drop the tuition that they would have to pay. resulting im more people being able to get degrees and thus putting them into higher paying jobs and overall lowering in the long run how much has to be spent on the prison system

  23. 23 Luke Napier December 7, 2009 at 9:59 AM

    “The cost of housing state prison inmates has grown so much in the past decade that California now spends more incarcerating 167,000 adults than it does to educate 226,000 students in its 10-campus University of California system.”

    This number should shock me, but in complete honesty it doesn’t shock me one bit. In America as a society we hardly emphasis the importance of education. We stress the importance of regulating the law and punishing those who break the law, but for these numbers to be popping up is completely ridiculous. For our state to be concerned with the futures of prisoners instead of the future of this state is completely absurd. If we put all that money into education, we could have possibly changed the outcome of those prisoners by educating them while they were young.

  24. 24 Kaitlin E December 7, 2009 at 9:02 PM

    The above article basically says that Californians would rather spend tax dollars on keeping criminals out of society rather than have more people receive higher education. Whether or not this truly reflects the values of most Californians is not clear. From the posts of everyone, it would seem that many people feel the spending should be reversed, with more spent on higher education.

  25. 25 Jamie B December 8, 2009 at 8:08 PM

    I agree that this it is absurd that the state spends more money on prisoners then our students. Especially when one considers that the students are the ones who are going to influence the world once they graduate and enter the work force. I think that the article is hinting at the fact that the prison system is turning more into a business then a correctional institute.

  26. 26 Brodeick Nickelberry Jr. December 13, 2009 at 7:23 PM

    This is why I believe California has no idea how to distribute money. Why should the prison system get more than the education system? California need to transfer some of that money over to college’s so students don’t have to pay so much for an higher education.

  27. 27 Hayden Scott December 14, 2009 at 11:39 AM

    If you can tell a lot about a person (or institution) by how they spend their money, then California has clearly decided to be reactive rather than proactive. Research has shown a clear correlation between low literacy levels and incarceration, and education is the only clear long-term solution. Just like savings and investment produces growth in an economy in the long term, investment in education produces positive externalities, such as increase in human capital and the technological knowledge of a society.

  28. 28 Rochelle Galzote December 14, 2009 at 10:25 PM

    It’s crazy how more money is being spent on prison rather than school. School is very important and should be taken more seriously. The rate of people going to jail is getting higher. Yeah they should get their basic needs but not things they don’t absolutely need.

  29. 29 TTS06 December 17, 2009 at 2:31 PM

    This is irony that we spend more money putting people in prison than we do educating them and that we possibly could have prevented this from happening by offering a better education at a less expensive price.

  30. 30 Ryan Moura May 2, 2010 at 4:48 PM

    This is absolutely ridiculous to hear coming in such a horrible economy as that of America. With all these budget cuts left and right to jobs and education, it is crazy to me to hear that this much is still being spent on criminals. Criminals who have been given there chance at living in organized society and have failed, but we are continually spending more and more to accommodate them. This just doesn’t see right to me, and money should be focussed back on the many students around California.

  31. 31 Colette Whitney May 18, 2010 at 7:38 PM

    This article sounds really bad, nobody wants to hear that we are spending more money on prisons than UC systems. However, if it has to do with our safety then I dont mind spending so much money on it. I want secure prisons so that these people are not on the streets, there is a reason why they are in jain in the first place. Where the real flaw is in the prisons is that we still give them rights and healthcare. (I may sound inhumane and offensive but these people have killed people lets remember) I say we feed them just enough to keep them alive, and if they are in prison for life or on death row lets not pay for their healthcare. Especially on death row, it is stupid to pay to keep them alive when they are on it. Prisoners are treated way better than they should be. So if we cut costs from them, and give that money to education we would not have as big as a problem.


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