clock menu more-arrow no yes

Obama: $80 billion spent on incarceration could eliminate tuition at public universities

Mass incarceration costs the US more than $80 billion in a year. That's how much corrections expenditures cost the US — mostly state and local governments — in 2010, according to the Hamilton Project.

In a tweetstorm following his speech at the NAACP's 2015 national convention, President Barack Obama provided a different way to look at that cost by explaining what that $80 billion could go to:

As Obama noted, some people will always need to be in prison, and the $80 billion includes the cost of probation and parole, so that full sum isn't going to be freed up even through really extensive criminal justice reform. But by directly comparing incarceration with other expenditures, Obama is making a point many criminal justice experts now agree with: Mass incarceration reached the point of diminishing returns by the 1990s — there are only so many serious criminals out there, and by then the people getting put in prison weren't people who'd be committing crime after crime on the street. So it would be better for the US to spend money on other measures, some of which could even do a better job at fighting crime.