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Wisconsin prison system costs three times more than education

LA CROSSE, Wis. - At a time when schools districts are struggling to balance their budgets, a new report shows Wisconsin is spending three times as much money on the prison system than on students.

Students who don't graduate from high school are eight times more likely to be incarcerated throughout their lifetime.

With the prison system easily out-spending public schools, some educators said investing in students now could ultimately save the state money in the long run.

It's a battle the La Crosse school district has been facing since the early 1990s.

"What has been happening and what we're hearing about year after year, is the cutting of programs and services for students," said Janet Rosseter, executive director of business services for the La Crosse School District.

A study from CNN cites research from the U.S. Census bureau and the Vera Institute of Justice reports Wisconsin spends roughly about $10,000 per student a year.


With about 7,000 students in the district, Rossetter said that money gets stretched pretty thin.

"Education is a very service oriented business, so for the most part, about 83 percent of our budget is paying for the people that provide the services and programs for our students," said Rosseter.

It's just a third of what Wisconsin pays to house each of the 22,000 inmates in the state's prisons.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections said it costs about $30,000 per inmate every year to pay for housing, clothing, food and medical expenses.

It's a cost the La Crosse school district Associate Superintendent, Troy Harcey, said could be avoided.

"We've got a serious challenge to make sure that we're engaging kids in their education (and) that we've got families on board," said Harcey.

Harcey said investing early on in a students education could do more than just help decrease the prison population.

"The long term, whether its increased salary through education attainment, overall better health, quality of life in that regard or the reduction of those folks who are incarcerated, it all makes a big difference for the state of Wisconsin," said Harcey.

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections said the state's prison population has stayed relatively average.

The department also reports the rate of people returning to prison after they've finished their sentence has been steadily decreasing since 1993.

The study also shows New Jersey and New York are among the highest for prison costs spending upwards of $50,000 a year for each inmate.

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