How State’s Budget Allocation Tell the Story of Prison Industrial System in the United States

In the United States there is the ever present issue of police violence against racial minorities and the over policing of black communities. As a black male growing up in this country it is something that has shaped who I am and my my families experiences living here. Although the cries for justice and racial equality have been screamed at the highest steeple in this country for years we are still fighting these systemic issues and searching for meaningful change.

In this project I hope to paint a clearer picture as to why these issues require so much attention and highlight their systemic nature. Through looking at state budgets and year on year we can start to see how state funds are allocated from education funding, and policing, and the way to parks and recreational expenses. I choose to look at the per capita expenses in the United States overall, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. I chose to look at Louisiana because it is my home state and has the highest rate of incarceration in the US. Pennsylvania because it is where I currently live and attend college. And finally the US as a whole to hopefully get an idea of where we are aggregately and as a baseline of comparison.

This past Summer we heard many cries to defund the police around the country and this movement sparked lots of confusion and traction in the media. I am not here to explain that position but just to paint a picture of the facts of the situation. Here is a chart that shows per capita police expenses over a 20 year span in 1998–2018 from US Census Data:

Per Capita Police Expense Over 1998–2018

One thing that sticks out to me in this graph is how police spending per capita has risen nearly consistently over the past twenty years especially in my home state of Louisiana. Despite the population only growing by 300k people in this time span(1998–2018) the per capita budget spending on police in Louisiana has nearly more than doubled in that time and was greater than the US per capita police expense for many years. This might not seem like an issue to some people, more police means safer and better community for all of us right? Well when you take into account the other line items that governments are responsible for for example education. The picture isn’t as clear as it seems.

Per Capita Education Expense Over 1998–2018

In this chart we can see the per capita educational expenses and the results are striking. While Louisiana led in per capita policing expense they are dismally low in per capita educational expenses while Pennsylvania remains well above the national average. Louisiana is ranked 50th in public school education in the US while having the highest incarceration rate of any state. These facts and analysis are a direct reflection of the states budget priorities. How can you consistently spend less on educating your population since 2010 while at the same time consistently spend more on policing them in that same time span. Discovering this made me question why this doesn’t this garner more attention?

Now at this point if you are still skeptical I have another chart that may give us a more in depth observation into these expenses. Lets take a step back. Every state government has revenue and expenses so the per capita expenses might not paint a clear picture that there is an allocation issue right? Well lets look at policing expenses as a percentage of total expense:

Percentage of Policing Expense Of Total Expenses

We can see here that Louisiana has consistently spent a larger portion of their expense budget on policing year on year than the national average and a lot more than Pennsylvania. To be fair lets look at educational data as a percentage as well:

We can see from this graph how Louisiana and even Pennsylvania have allowed educational spending as a percentage of overall expenses to decrease overtime since 1998. It is notable that overall we are spending a lot more on education than policing, but the issue is not in the overall amount but the decisions to grow that pool of funding. We can see here an overall trend of less educational spending as a percentage over time. While we observed that for policing a pretty stable percentage and even growth of that percentage for Louisiana.

Conclusion:

Looking at how states manage their budget is very important to understanding how our tax dollars are allocated and gives an insight into the systemic nature of police violence in this country. It is painfully obscure how state governments allocate funds as educational spending growth is not prioritized as much as policing and other line items. What is the need for consistent growth in spending for police while public schools in Louisiana are ranked dead last in the country? The lack of resources in public education and over prioritization of growth for policing helps explain the school to prison pipeline and highlights how disenfranchised communities aren’t able to achieve social mobility because their schools are underfunded while policing funding continues to grow.

The answer to these issues isn’t just allocating more funds. Work has to be done to implement funds in a way that brings real change, to improve relations between policing and the communities they operate in and increase transparency of how tax payer dollars are spent in a states budget. Identifying these budget discrepancies is the one of the first of many steps we can take to creating real change and bring awareness to these systemic issues.

Sources/Data:

  1. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/money.html This was a great website that explains in great detail how money moves through prison and in state/federal economies.
  2. https://state-local-finance-data.taxpolicycenter.org/pages.cfm Census Data used for this Project
  3. https://wallethub.com/edu/e/states-with-the-best-schools/5335 Education Rankings by State
  4. https://www.sentencingproject.org/the-facts/#map Incarceration Rates by State

Software Used for this Analysis:

  1. R Studio
  2. Microsoft Excel