Two Million and Counting

An Expert Analyzes the Prison Population Boom

Who is paying the bill for the rapid expansion of the prison industry? We're spending nearly $40 billion [annually] to lock people up nationally. At the state level, it's really encroached on funds for higher education because the dollars have to come from someplace. We have very little political discussion about this kind of a trade-off. When parents get a tuition bill for their kids' college education, I always think they should get a little note that says tuition went up $200 last year because we decided to build two new prisons. Then we can all decide whether we think that's a good use of our money or not.

Do you see any end to the prison boom? The scale of the race to incarcerate is so dramatic that it's beginning to impinge on other constituencies and issues. More leaders in higher education are concerned about the effect of mass incarceration on their budget. Some business leaders recognize that putting all your resources into an expanding prison system is not good for the development of communities and a stable workforce. Civil rights groups are increasingly concerned about the loss of voting rights. It's not just an issue of prison reform. The implications are becoming more clear to a broad range of society.

photograph from the cover of Race To Incarcerate, the Sentencing Project." used with permission.

Marc Mauer will be speaking at "The Causes and Consequences of Mass Imprisonment in the U.S.A.," an all-day conference on February 26 at the New York University School of Law. Admission is free. To register, call 212-998-8536.

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