Throwing Money Away – Incarceration vs. Education

Every time someone in this country is arrested for a nonviolent drug offense, such as possession of cannabis (commonly known as marijuana), it costs taxpayers thousands of dollars to arrest, prosecute, and imprison that person. This even includes Fiona Apple:

Fiona Apple Will Go To Jail For At Least Two Years
Because possessing hash in Texas is a third-degree felony, Fiona Apple faces up to 10 years in jail after her arrest on Wednesday for having four grams on her tour bus (big surprise, the lady with the octopus on her head likes THC).

Did you know that it costs, on average, anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 per year to keep an inmate in prison is this country? In Texas that number is about $22,000 per innmate, one of the lowest in the country actually. That means Texans are going to spend anywhere from $44,000 to over $200,000 to keep Ms. Apple in prison. And I haven’t even touched on what the already mounting costs are for her arrest trial. There are much better ways to spend this money I think.

The average cost of tuition at a public university is only $15,918. At the University of Texas it only costs around $10,000 per year for tuition and fees, with slight variation depending on the college. That’s right, it costs half as much for a full year of education at UT than it does to keep someone in prison in Texas for that some year. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have my tax money going towards someones education rather than their incarceration for smoking some cannabis.

The real question is how much money does this end up being in total in the state of Texas. According to John Gettman, Ph.D. in his report Marijuana in Texas (pdf, takes a second to load), the total cost for all cannabis related offenses in Texas in 2006 was a staggering $655 million dollars (that’s $655,000,000). Now, not all of these were for simple possession, only 97% of them were. Texas wouldn’t be in so much of a budget hole if we starting implementing sensible cannabis policy, such as taxing and regulating the cannabis industry, like we do with the alcohol and tobacco industries. I’ll discuss that more another time.

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