U.S. Prison Population Soars; Vermont Spends More on Prisons than Higher Education

WASHINGTON, February 28 - More than one in every 100 American adults is in jail or prison, according to new research on the nation's surging inmate population. The same study also found that Vermont is one of only five states that spends more money on prisons than on higher education.

"Incredibly, with over 2.3 million Americans behind bars, we now have more people in jail than any other country on Earth," Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said. "In my view, these sad facts reflect a very distorted set of national priorities.

"Today, the United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country and, year after year, we grossly underfund childcare, Head Start and the overall needs of our children," Sanders added. "Perhaps, if we adequately invested in our children and in education, kids who now grow up to be criminals could become productive workers and taxpayers, rather than lawbreakers and burdens on society."

The study of the burgeoning inmate population in the United States was conducted by the Pew Center on the States Public Safety Performance Project.

The report said there are 1,596,127 prisoners in state and federal penitentiaries. Another 723,131 are behind bars in local jails, making the United States prison population the largest in the world. Much more populous China holds1.5 million inmates behind bars. Per capita, the incarceration rate in the United States, with 750 prisoners per 100,000 people, is ahead of Russia (628 per 100,000) and other former Soviet bloc nations.

With more than one in every 100 American adults in jail or prison, the 50 states spent more than $49 billion on corrections last year. Over the past two decades, the rate of increase for prison costs was six times greater than for higher education spending, the report said.

Vermont spends $1.37 on corrections for every $1 spent on public universities and community colleges, according to the study. Vermont is one of only five states that spend more on prisons than on colleges and universities, the researchers found, and the ratio is higher in Vermont than anywhere else.

After nearly doubling in size over the past decade, the Vermont prison population will increase three times as fast as the general resident population over the next decade, at a cost of between $82 million and $206 million, according to a separate study released last month by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

To read the full Pew Center study, click here.