• 11.08.11

Infographic Of The Day: What’s More Expensive, Prison Or Princeton?

You probably don’t even want to know.

Infographic Of The Day: What’s More Expensive, Prison Or Princeton?

We’re all moderately aware that the prison system costs taxpayers a lot of money. But how expensive is it really?


More expensive than going to an Ivy League school.

This provocative infographic from, an online resource for students and professionals in public administration, shows that it costs the state of New Jersey more to lock away a prisoner in Trenton ($44,000) than it does to send someone to Princeton for a year ($37,000).

But that’s not even the worst of it. The chart goes on to compare the anatomy of the corrections system to that of higher education in the United States, with some disturbing results: Spending soared 127% in prisons between 1987 and 2007; in higher education, it increased just 21%. States like New Hampshire, Vermont, and New Jersey blow nearly twice as much on incarceration as they do on colleges. In California alone, spending averages $48,214 per inmate and only $7,463 per student.

All of which disproportionately affects black America. The number of African Americans in dorm rooms: 270,000. In prison? 820,000.

And it’s not like this a global phenomenon. The United States has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. To put that in the context of higher education: The incarceration rate is higher here than in any other country, while our college graduation rate is sixth in the world.

To be sure, the chart elides certain details, like the socioeconomic roots of incarceration. But as a basic portrait of American priorities, it’s pretty telling: We care more about sending people to prison than we do about helping them get an education. And we’re dumber and poorer for it.


[Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan; Top image by CJ Schmit]

About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.