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The Big Answer

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The Costs of Crime

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There had been concern in the 1980s that the aging population would stop supporting property-tax increases, bond issues and other measures that finance public schools. However, the concerns were unfounded. Spending on public primary-school and secondary-school education rose 24.4 percent between 1980 and 1989. And because the number of students declined by 1.1 million during that period, the real increase on a per-student basis was actually 28.3 percent. There is now concern over financial support for schools in the future as the portion of the population over 65 grows from 12.6 percent in 1990 to 17.7 percent in 2020. There are signs that school spending is beginning to slow and people are asking what they're getting for their money. They believe that the investment hasn't yielded much improvement. (Source: Bacon, Kenneth H., "Defying Demographics," The Wall Street Journal Reports, Friday, March 9, 1990, p. R24)

20th century education spending
20th century education spending

US criminal justice cost 1982 to 2006
Source: United States Bureau of Justice Statistics

Unfortunately the costs of not educating our children are much higher than the costs of educating them. Each decade Americans spend $1000 more per year to educate each child. In 1977 the cost was $3000 per student. In 1987, $4000. In 2009, $10,591—and 4 years later in 2013 it was over $11,011. What percent of high school students dropped out? The national high school graduation rate is 75.5 percent so 24.5 percent dropped out in 2012. (Source: Although we're tired of throwing money at problems, the cost of not educating is this: 62 percent of prisoners behind bars are high school dropouts. It cost us $17,000 per year for each prisoner in 1990, but in 2010 it was $31,307 per year. Comparatively, education is cheap. (Source: "Enlightened Orphans," American Demographics, March 1990, p. 16) The cost for all of those in prison and jail? Our epidemic of incarceration costs us taxpayers $63.4 billion a year in 2012. (The cost of a nation of incarceration, CBS News)

We dislike throwing money at problems, but the cost of not educating ($31,307 per prisoner) is much higher than the cost of educating ($11,000)—of course, not all dropouts go to prison
We dislike throwing money at problems, but the cost of not educating ($31,307 per prisoner) is much higher than the cost of educating ($11,000)—of course, not all dropouts go to prison

Another report (Columbia University) states that every dollar spent on pre-school education saves $4.75 in special-education, welfare, and prison costs; every dollar invested in immunization saves $10 in later medical costs. (Source: Lambert, Richard D., editor, and Heston, Alan W., associate editor, The Annals of The American Academy of Political and Social Science, Our Crowded Prisons, Beverly Hills, London, New Dehli: Sage Publications, March 1985) In addition, every year U.S. businesses spend $25 billion to correct what education has not done. (Source: Friendly, Fred, "American Education," PBS, October 29, 1990 and At-risk children who don't receive a high-quality early childhood education are:

•25% more likely to drop out of school
•40% more likely to become a teen parent
•50% more likely to be placed in special education
•60% more likely to never attend college
•70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime

Therefore early childhood programs are the most cost-effective way to ensure the healthy development of children in poverty and offer the greatest returns to society. (Source:

A study by a team of Iowa State researchers calculated the cost to society of the five most serious crimes—murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary using 2003 data. They found that each murder costs more than $17.25 million bucks. The ISU researchers also calculated costs of rape ($448,532), armed robbery ($335,733), aggravated assault ($145,379) and burglary ($41,288). (Source: So the more than 18,000 homicides that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded in 2007 alone will cost us roughly $300 billion bucks! And another researcher says the total cost of crime is $1.7 trillion a year, in 1999. (Source: The Aggregate Burden of Crime, by David A. Anderson, Centre College)

In 2010 Charles M. Blow in High Cost of Crime wrote in The New York Times that the lame way we address our crime problem since 1990 or before has been "the mass incarceration of millions of Americans and the industrializing of our criminal justice system." Since 1985, the prison population has quadrupled. What a waste. This is a dumb direction for our country to travel if we want to prosper. He goes on to point out that if the criminals had benefitted from a decent educational system and a more capable social service system, a lot of these crimes would not have even occurred. The choice is clear: pay a little money now or pay a whole heck of a lot later.

The choice is clear: pay a little money now for education or pay a lot more later for incarceration
The choice is clear: pay a little money now for education or pay a lot more later for incarceration

A prison
A prison