Among the many social issues debated around water coolers, across Internet forums, and in the presidential race, whether or not the United States government has an obligation to educate its masses isn’t much of a priority, but government spending (and what it does or does not accomplish) is a hot topic.
A report issued by The Pew Center On The States details the prison population count for all 50 states and the cost of that population’s upkeep. Of the more than 300 million residents of the United States, over 2.3 million of its adults are in prison or jail. That’s one out of every 100 of us.
This is a greater number of people than the combined populations of Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Denver, Colorado, and Seattle, Washington. The United States’ prison population exceeds that of any other country in the world – including China, a country with over 1.3 billion residents.
In 2007, the states spent over $44 billion on the incarcerated. After adjusting for 2007 dollars, that’s a tin cup-rattling 127 percent increase since 1987. Currently, this works out to almost $19,000 per prisoner per year.
For the same period, the adjusted spending on higher education climbed 21 percent. Due to recent overhauls in financial aid, the United States could send their entire criminal population to Harvard for a four-year degree and still spend less money per prisoner per year. For those currently making less than $180,000 a year, the cost of a Harvard education is $18,000 per person per year.
With this in mind, one wonders how the states justify cuts in education that would benefit the free citizen: those who have yet to (or would never) embark on a career of crime. For less money, we could be graduating rocket scientists instead of paroling rocks.
Sure, there are your serial killers, sex-offenders, and other assorted repeat offenders who should, by all means, stay in prison forever, but are there 2.3 million of them? More than one million of those currently behind bars are non-violent offenders. What, then, could possibly be the justification for there being that many people in prison in the first place when it costs less to educate them before they so much as pick a pocket? Vocational training and state universities, after all, cost a fraction of a Harvard education.
Alas, education is not a constitutional right – at least not on the free side of the wall. Part of the cost of prisoner upkeep includes their healthcare, vocational training, and higher education. We could say those who aren’t smart enough to avoid a life of crime will only take advantage of educational opportunities when its readily available and free – and we’d be right. The same could easily be said for the rest of us. Why, then, aren’t we providing education and healthcare as a preventative (for crime, poverty, and unemployment) instead of using it as a treatment?
That’s not how the United States taxpayer prefers to do business. Numbers and votes don’t lie: the United States taxpayer prefers to provide its criminal population with the very amenities it refuses to provide its law-abiding population. Also, the lawful have to do their own cooking.
Between the number of Americans without access to education and healthcare, and the number of people in prison, one could say American taxpayers are now too sick, too ignorant, and too tied up to take care of themselves.
No wonder the government wants to maintain the status quo.