Nationally, approximately one out of 100 adult citizens in the United States is incarcerated. The United States incarcerates many times more of its citizens than any other country. For every 100,000 population, Denmark incarcerates 67, Germany 93, and Great Britain 148. In contrast, the United States incarcerates 750 per 100,000 population. (See the Pew Center on the States Report: One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008.)
The annual cost of maintaining a prisoner is more than $2,000 per month (the actual cost is much greater when taking into account capital expenses and welfare costs to assist many families of prisoners. And, the costs have been increasing. According to the Pew Institute, U.S. spending on incarceration is increasing six times faster than the funding increase for higher education (in Utah, four times). In 2008, for every dollar spent on higher education, Utah spent 41 cents on corrections. These are dollars that could be spent on higher education and other programs.
Recidivism refers to prisoners who return to prison after being released. According to a recent report from the Rand Corporation, recidivism is a little above 40% (some studies have found it to be as high as 67%). That means almost half of those released from prison return. This enormously increases costs to taxpayers.
Reports from the National Institute of Justice, the Correctional Education Association, and various State Corrections Departments produce compelling data that prison education is the single most effective way of reducing recidivism. Yet, educational opportunities in prisons are sparse.