The Cost to Educate vs. The Cost to Incarcerate Children

8 Mar

From Marcie Hill: This story is being re-published with a few revisions because it is a topic that is really on my heart right now.

I am going to go on a limb here to discuss something that we will probably NEVER see on TV – the cost of educating a child versus the cost to incarcerate one in Chicago and Illinois. All of the research I conducted for this story was done in 2008, so some of the information may be a little outdated. The information was obtained from the Chicago Public Schools and Illinois Department of Corrections.

Chicago High School Students

Chicago High School Students

During the FY 2007-2008, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) spent $10,555 operating expenditure per pupil and $9,488 per capital tuition. While I don’t fully understand the per capita tuition (although I could ask), this $10,000 pales in comparison to the money Illinois state spends on juvenile detention.

Things to keep in mind as you read:
1. The average age of detained youth in Illinois is between 16 and 17 years of age.
2. Some of the facilities are overcrowded.
3. With all of the money that is being spent, is correction really going on?

Illinois Youth Center Chicago
Opened: July 1999
Capacity: 130
Level 3: Minimum-Security Juvenile Male
Average Daily Population: 104
Total Average Daily Population: 104
Average Age: 17
Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $76,095.00

IYC-Chicago is located on the west side of the city and is a leased property that occupies the third floor of a rehabbed warehouse building. The facility houses approximately 100 male youth per day. There are approximately 97 employees at the center. The institution also serves as a drop-off center for all juvenile parole violators in District 1. Transitional programming has been supplemented by federal grants that will allow the facility to contract for re-entry services. These services assist youth in their return and progress back into the community. Violence intervention programs have included Schwab “In My Shoes” presentations that discuss the impact of gang activity. Former gang members confined to wheelchairs as a result of gang-related gunfire talk to youth about their lives before and after tragic life-altering incidents in an effort to warn youth about their high-risk lifestyles.

Illinois Youth Center Harrisburg
Opened: July 1983
Capacity: 276
Level 4: Multiple-Security Juvenile Male
Average Daily Population: 316
Total Average Daily Population: 316
Average Age: 17
Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $52,545.00


Illinois Youth Center-Harrisburg serves as one of the secure medium-security Level 2 institutions for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice currently housing an average daily population of 326 male offenders. IYC-Harrisburg provides a broad range of services to youth incarcerated at the facility. These services include remedial, secondary and college level education courses, a GED program, library services, vocational training, guidance and work training programs. Diagnostic and evaluative services and special education programs are also provided.

Illinois Youth Center Joliet
Opened: April 1959
Capacity: 344
Level 1: Maximum-Security Juvenile Male
Average Daily Population: 230
Total Average Daily Population: 230
Average Age: 17
Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $56,351.00

The Illinois Youth Center-Joliet remains focused on providing a safe and secure working and living environment for all staff and youth. As today’s society experiences increases in violent behavior, chemical dependency and a failure of our traditional institution to adequately guide young people, youths come to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice with a greater history of violence and an increased need for intervention. Youth who obtain their GED are given specific job assignments. Youth are enrolled in school immediately upon arrival to the facility.

Illinois Youth Center Kewanee
Opened: November 2001
Capacity: 180
Level 2: Medium-Security Juvenile Male
Average Daily Population: 260
Total Average Daily Population: 260
Average Age: 17
Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $96,087.00

Opened in November 2001, Illinois Youth Center-Kewanee is a secure medium-security facility that houses youthful male offenders. IYC-Kewanee has five 60-cell housing units. The facility includes a Medical Unit with six infirmary beds, eight crisis cells. The Education Department has 18 general education classrooms and three vocational classrooms. IYC-Kewanee is designated as a special treatment facility, focusing on treatment for youth with severe mental health issues, substance abuse problems and sex offenders. A wide range of intensive treatment programs are in place to address these issues, including psychiatric, medical care and counseling services provided 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Academic, vocational, recreational, religious and volunteer programs support these services.

Illinois Youth Center Murphysboro
Opened: April 1997
Capacity: 156
Level 2: Medium-Security Juvenile Male
Average Daily Population: 75
Total Average Daily Population: 75
Average Age: 17
Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $84,403.00

As IYC-Murphysboro is the state’s only juvenile boot camp, its mission remains clear: to prepare youth for positive, successful lives by developing self-discipline, teamwork, self-esteem and self-worth as individuals. To accomplish this, staff consistently strives to provide a military-style environment that encourages cadets to reach a higher point in their lives. Cadets begin the eye-opening experience of participating in the boot camp program at 5:30 a.m. each morning and continue the fully programmed day until 9 p.m., seven days a week. It takes many staff, volunteers and mentors to fill those 16-hour days. Education continues to be central to all programming at IYC-Murphysboro.

Illinois Youth Center Pere Marquette
Opened: March 1963
Level 3: Minimum-Security Juvenile Female

IYC- Pere Marquette is a level three, medium security female facility with an open campus. IYC-Pere Marquette is the first juvenile facility totally dedicated to a modified therapeutic community treatment model, with a focus on regionalizing admissions based on commitment county. IYC-Pere Marquette does not house any special offender population. Youth benefit from more intense intervention and treatment-oriented programming that will ensure them an opportunity for a structured and disciplined setting to educate them in positive life building skills.

Illinois Youth Center St. Charles
Opened: December 1904
Capacity: 318
Level 2: Medium-Security Juvenile Male
Average Daily Population: 328
Total Average Daily Population: 328
Average Age: 16
Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $56,163.00

The Illinois Youth Center-St. Charles is a Level 2 medium-security facility. It is unique as an institution because in addition to the general population program, the facility processes the majority of all male offenders committed to IDOC. The type of offender assigned to this facility may have an overall designation of high, medium or low escape risk. He will be classified as either high or medium security risk based on his committing offense and criminal history, size, age, level of aggressiveness and security threat group (STG) orientation. Offenders with all classes of crimes are assigned here.

Illinois Youth Center Warrenville
Opened: January 1973
Capacity: 86
Level 4: Multiple-Security Juvenile Female
Average Daily Population: 78
Total Average Daily Population: 78
Average Age: 16
Average Annual Cost Per Inmate: $80,365.00

IYC-Warrenville serves a juvenile female population with multi-service needs. The center provides GED and high school diploma academic services, an in-patient substance abuse treatment program, vocational programs, mental health services, medical services, clinical services, leisure time activities, parenting education, assessments and family reunification programming. The average age of the juvenile females at the center is 16.3 years.


As you can see, millions of dollars are spent on incarcerating instead of educating children in Chicago and Illinois.  If a fraction of the money that was spent on locking up a child was used to effectively educate, this article would not had been written.  But, since the education system is set up to fail our children, the incarceration rate will continue to grow along with profits of the prison system.  This is a topic that would probably never be seen on TV.


15 Responses to “The Cost to Educate vs. The Cost to Incarcerate Children”

  1. Steve M July 6, 2009 at 8:16 am #

    I found the piece informative, but take grave issue with you on this statement:

    “As you can see, millions of dollars are spent on detaining instead of educating children in Chicago and Illinois.”

    You say “instead of” as though there is an honest choice being made. As cynical as we may choose to be about the spending of taxpayers dollars, there are two truths that cannot be ignored:

    (1) Incarceration and so-called rehabilitation (which I do not believe in) cost WAY more than education to start with, if we are examining it in a per-child comparison. Detention facilities shoulder the cost of clothing, housing, education, treatment (medical, psychiatric and drug), counselling and the rest of those you mentioned above, plus we haven’t even gotten to those specialized services that are directly related to incarceration, i.e. guard and security services, particularly at the maximum- and even medium-security locations. Education DONE RIGHT would not be cheap, but it is also, without question, NOT 24/7. Schools close, jails don’t. So if your premise is that a choice is being made between the two, I patently disagree and while the statement may be popular, it is, to my belief, just not true.

    (2) Too many parents are abject failures at the most important job they will ever have and a more substantial commitment of tax dollars is not the answer. I don’t give a DAMN about how many parents are in the home – one, two or grandma an’ em – whoever has decided or agreed to raise children but allows them to fail academically SHOULD BE ASHAMED. If your kid joins a gang and you do not do EVERYTHING possible to end that, you are failing. If your kids regularly gets D’s and F’s, but still have on Jordans and run the streets, you are failing. If your kid refuses to pay attention in class, but knows every word to every song on the radio, you are failing. So, as someone who does not have kids, allow me to say this: IF YOU DON’T CARE THAT YOUR BAD A** CHILDREN ARE FAILING AND WIND UP IN JAIL, I DON’T EITHER. BUT WHEN THEY BREAK IN MY HOME OR THREATEN THE CHILDREN I HOPE TO ONE DAY HAVE, I FULLY INTEND TO PROVIDE THEM WITH A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU PUT YOURSELF IN THAT POSITION. Every citizen is not necessarily scared of criminals.

    So, parents, when BET, hip-hop and YouTube raises your kids for you and they fail, but you keep making Christmas and birthdays wonderful, their failures are yours. My point? That I, frankly, would just as soon see my tax dollars paid to keep them in jail and off the street than bother with ever TRYING to educate them. Their education should not require Herculean effort on the part of others. Successful education begins at home and continues at school, not the other way around. These white t-shirt-wearing, gun-toting idiots who can’t speak or spell, but can quote the life lessons of Gucci Mane and Young Jeezy should neither expect nor deserve life’s better opportunities because they have not EARNED them in any way with their abyssmal grade reports. Well, maybe a recording contract.

    I don’t mean to speak in absolutes and all points are debatable. I know a young man who grew up with the support of a good family – not his parents, but a good family nonetheless. He preferred the block to the classroom and wound up in jail. He, however, got his GED and got it together in jail (adult jail). Since then, he got out, got a good job, is going to COLLEGE (not JuCo), is getting straight A’s and got MARRIED. He is, by any measure, a solid citizen. So I am not saying there is a pre-determination of failure when young people go wrong. I am simply saying that if that person has it in them in ANY WAY to get it together, I believe they will. But if they don’t, they will become familiar with the revolving door of recidivism. Either way, throwing money at the education of whose who feel such great contempt for a system that is providing them is not the answer. Frankly, to my way of thinking, a commitment of more money in the absence of a higher commitment from the families of these children would be a waste.

    And that…to quote Brother Gump…is all I have to say about that.

    • Marcie July 6, 2009 at 2:53 pm #

      Thanks so much for your insight. Hopefully, it will enlighten others.

  2. Jennifer Brown Banks July 6, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    Excellent story and one definitely worth sharing. Very enlightening read!

    • Marcie July 6, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Please share with others.

  3. Missie July 8, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    Amazing article, Marcie. It’s very powerful and very out-of-the-box. It’s information like this that needs to be exposed, the truth. Keep up the great work!

    • Marcie July 8, 2009 at 11:00 pm #

      Thanks Missie. I am going to send this to a couple local magazines in hopes that it sparks some interest from somewhere.

  4. Amoureuse July 27, 2009 at 3:51 am #

    Marcie great story ! Have not found anywhere else such an information.
    I am sure that the local magazines would be interested in publishing.
    Let us know whats going on 🙂

    • Marcie July 27, 2009 at 7:47 am #

      Thanks so much. If you have any connections, please let me know.

  5. Joe Blow September 7, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    I think what is not addressed here is that some of these juveniles that are incarcerated are rapists, which most of the time the victims are young children and murders. One I can think of is a 15y/o boy who shot a truck drivers face off in a robbery which netted him 11 dollars. We are not talking about underage drinking, car theft, shoplifting. These are children that are committing “adult crimes”; most are not able to be rehabilitated. Do you want these children on the streets? I think not! No matter what the cost, they must be incarcerated.

    • Marcie September 7, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

      Thanks for addressing the young people that are unable to be rehabilitated. Without actually knowing the prison rates and charges, these people are probably the exceptions and not the norms. What about the children that could have had changed if the correctional system actually corrected? I don’t know if you are aware, but prison cells are designated for students that do not pass the 3rd grade in Chicago Public Schools. While there are many factors that contribute to the failure of young people, it seems to me that the system that is currently is place to pass failing students is working quite well. Why should the school system spend $10,000 a year to educate when the state can get $50,000 and more per year to incarcerate? And, a lot of them may be locked up for things they did not do or for not tricking on their peers.

  6. Boot Camps April 27, 2010 at 12:11 am #

    It is really an over crowded one. It seems like a dumping place of troubled teens. How they could learn if they are all dump in a place where they spend money without thinking of things that will help them on dealing with their problems.

  7. AsNotSeenOnTV April 27, 2010 at 5:29 am #

    Good observation. What are some things that could be done to reduce incarceration?

  8. Lastarck May 1, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    Shockingly sad statistics. Will reform ever take place?

    • Anonymous May 2, 2011 at 1:30 am #

      I don’t know if education would ever become a priority especially since incarceration is very profitable, but there are groups work to change how young people are tried and treated in the system.


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