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August 28, 2002

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Cellblocks or Classrooms in Ohio



The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) report Cellblocks or Classrooms? is a comprehensive national analysis of the fiscal tradeoff between spending on higher education and spending on corrections in the states. The report, released locally by Policy Matters Ohio, found that Ohio’s corrections budget skyrocketed between 1985 and 2000, while increases in higher education spending lagged.  Other Ohio findings include:

▪  From 1985 to 2000, Ohio increased spending on corrections at five times the rate that it increased spending on higher education. Higher education spending increased by 38% or $670 million while corrections spending skyrocketed by 211% or $1.026 billion. While Ohio spending on higher education ($2.432 billion) exceeded what was spent on corrections ($1.1512 billion) in 2000, over the last 15 years, spending on prisons grew at 5.5 times the rate of higher education.

 In 2000, JPI estimates there were more African American men in Ohio’s prison system (23,200)[ii] than there were in Ohio’s colleges (20,074). This overall number does not include the large numbers of black men held in Ohio jails.  College-aged black men between the ages of 18 and 24 are more likely to be in college than prison. 

▪  Between 1980 and 2000, African American men were added to Ohio’s prison system at 38 times the rate they were added to Ohio’s colleges.

▪  Between 1992 and 2001 in Ohio, tuition increased by 32% at public four-year institutions (from $3,845 to $5,058) and by 26% at private four-year institutions (from $12,667 to $15,915). During these years, state spending on aid per student increased 62% (from $257 to $415).[iii] New students starting next week at Ohio State University will pay 19% more than new students paid last fall.[iv]

▪  Ohio has the 10th highest university tuition in the country and is ranked 39th in the nation in the percentage of the population with a Bachelor’s degree (17%). Ohio ranks 40th nationally in public investment per full-time student. [v] 

▪  The annual cost of incarcerating one person in an Ohio prison is $22,044.[vi]  For the cost of incarcerating one person in Ohio, the state could pay the annual tuition of four students at a public university.

▪  In 1996, Ohio had the 7th highest rate of non-violent drug admissions in the country. Drug offenses were responsible for 40% of admissions of African Americans to prison and 19% of white admissions.[vii] From 1986-1996, the percentage of African Americans in prison for drug offenses increased by a staggering 213%; for whites, it increased by 23%.[viii]

  A bachelor’s degree became more essential to economic well-being during the 1980s and 1990s in Ohio. Workers with only a high school diploma saw their wages drop by 13.9% in Ohio between 1979 and 2000. Even workers with 1-3 years beyond high school experienced an 8.7 % wage decline during this period. Only workers with a bachelor’s degree or more experienced wage growth between 1979 and 2000.[ix]

Cellblocks or Classrooms included national findings for the same 1985 to 2000 period. For all states and the District of Columbia, the report found:

▪  The increase in state spending on corrections was nearly double that of the increase to higher education ($20 billion on corrections, $10.7 billion on higher education).

▪  On average, the percentage increase in state spending on prisons was 6 times the percentage increase of spending on higher education.  The total growth in spending on higher education by states was 24%, compared with 166% for corrections.

▪  In 1999/2000 nationwide, researchers estimate there were more African American men in prison and jail (791,600) than were in higher education (603,000). JPI estimates that 3 times as many African American men were added to the prison system as were added to the nation’s colleges and universities.

Policy makers should be concerned that at a time when college is ever more essential, it is increasingly eluding the pocketbooks of the typical family. At the same time, the growth in our prison population and spending is absorbing ever larger shares of the state budget, and disproportionately impacting the African American community. Now is a good time to re-evaluate the policy choices that have led to increased prison spending.


[i] All fiscal figures are from the National Association for State Budget Officers’ State Expenditure Reports, 1985; 2000, and all dollar amounts are adjusted for inflation. Since national and standardized reports of state spending were used, there may be some variation between what State Expenditure Reports says a state spent, versus what that state reports in other budget documents. Some estimates were used to calculate the African American male state prison populations. Please see the methodology and notes in the full report for a more detailed explanation of data sources.

[ii] Proportions of Ohio’s male and African American state prison population from the state’s Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections July 2000 Snapshot would show that approximately 22,800 of the states prison population are African American

[iii] “Losing Ground: A National Status Report on the Affordability of Higher Education,” by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, 2002.

[iv] Fisher, Mark. “The High Price of Higher Education,” The Dayton Daily News, March 17, 2002.

[v] Ohio Board of Regents Report,

[vi] Fact Sheet, Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections, 2002.

[vii] Felner, Jamie, Punishment and Prejudice: Racial Disparities in the War on Drugs, New York, New York: Human Rights Watch, June 2000.

[viii] Holman, Barry, Beatty, Philip and Vincent Schiraldi. Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States. Washington, DC: The Justice Policy Institute, 2000.

[ix] Hanauer, Amy and Mark Cassell. The State of Working Ohio, 2001. Cleveland, OH: Policy Matters Ohio, August, 2001.



The Justice Policy Institute, a project of the Tides Center, is a Washington, DC-based think-tank committed to reducing society's reliance on incarceration.