According to Bernie Sanders' Facebook page:

enter image description here

Is this statement true?

  • 20
    Is this suprising? Commented May 20, 2017 at 16:01
  • 18
    The $70,810 number is fairly close to what you get ($80,000) if you divide California's total corrections and rehabilitation budget (about $10.5 billion) by the number of prison inmates (about 130,000). The $62,477 for Stanford is presumably for tuition, room and board, etc., but if you divide Stanford's annual operating budget ($5.9 billion) by number of students (16,336), you get about $361,000. Not saying that's a fair comparison, either; Stanford has lots of other revenues, and lots of expenses not directly related to education. Commented May 20, 2017 at 16:13
  • 3
    Indeed. But one also has to consider scale: the marginal per-prisoner cost of adding one prisoner may be very different from that of adding 1000 or 10,000 prisoners. I'm not sure "marginal cost to add one person" is a sensible way to interpret the claim. Conversely, if you wanted to add 10,000 students to Stanford, it would probably cost more than $62,477 per student per year. Commented May 20, 2017 at 16:21
  • 12
    Who is paying the costs? I don't want to go to prison anymore if I have to pay for it myself.
    – daniel
    Commented May 20, 2017 at 16:30
  • 7
    This claim does overlook the fact that the admissions criteria for the two institutions are rather different.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 18:15

1 Answer 1


As the image states, the data comes from the LA Daily News, specifically this article

Last week, this news organization reported the cost of keeping an inmate in a California state prison hit the astronomical figure of $70,810 per year. That’s each! It’s also $8,333 more [$62,477] than it would cost to send an inmate to Stanford University. And if we really want to pinch pennies, we could ship our crooks to Harvard University and save $9,785 [$61,025] per perp.

The article attributes the high cost of the California state prison system to their prison guard union bargaining for some of the highest salaries in the nation, along with NJ ("The highest-paid prison guards in the nation (we battle it out with New Jersey)...")

The figure looks like it came from the California Legislative Analyst's Office which has a rough break-down of:

  • $32,019 Security
  • $21,582 Inmate Health Care
  • $7,025 Facility Operations and Records
  • $4,171 Administration
  • $3,484 Inmate Food and Activities
  • $2,437 Rehabilitation Programs
  • $93 Miscellaneous
  • $70,812 Total

I'm not sure where the article's Stanford tuition fee comes from, the raw tuition is $15,777/quarter (3 quarters/year), after room, board, and other fees (variable) other sites cite it at about $64k (http://college-tuition.startclass.com/l/4518/Stanford-University)

I don't quite know how to compare the two, but I bet security isn't proportionally as high for a university than a prison. American students 26 years old or younger can also remain on their parent's insurance plan, so that cost isn't included.

Also bear in mind that universities like Stanford have many other funding streams, such as government research grants and endowments. For FY'16, Stanford reported "Student Income" as only 15% of its operating revenue. They receive $1.3 billion in research funding from the federal government, so across 16k students that works out to about another $80k per student, or including the 14k staff, $43k per person.

  • 10
    Not to mention the cherry picking. Stanford is one of the expensive schools. Not representative of an average. But that serves the message's point, that schooling costs less than prison.
    – user11643
    Commented May 21, 2017 at 7:21
  • 2
    If the use of research funding is anything like it was when I was a postgraduate research associate, any research monies will be thoroughly ring fenced from the teaching budget. Nothing bought for research will be touched by an undergraduate until it's at least a decade old. Last time I checked, the research budget of the average penal institute was insignificant. Long story short, the Student income per student is a pretty fair way of estimating the cost of educating someone at Stanford.
    – mcottle
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 6:44
  • 2
    comparing 3/4 of a year to a full year seems a bit unfair. If nothing else a stanford student needs room and board covered during summer even if he isn't actively attending Stanford. I'd suggest at least finding a low estimate for room & board for the summer (I'd say at least 1000/month for stanford kids, they probably don't live as cheap as I did lol). Plus health insurance should be considered, if nothing else parents are paying more to cover their kids on their insurance then getting an insurance without their kids probably?
    – dsollen
    Commented May 23, 2017 at 12:58
  • 4
    @NickT 'probably has the point there, presumably what Sanders is saying is that the average american citizien is fine with prison burden be equal and shared, while it also accepts or agrees with the fact that education burden is on one's own, trying to depict the lack of coherence in those two incompatible reasonings.
    – CptEric
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 7:04
  • 6
    @NickT: Prisons in the USA are an industry; they do not "reform". Commented May 28, 2017 at 15:03

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