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The Real Cost of Prisons

W. Scott Cole

Posted on August 26, 2018 14:37

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Do you know the true costs of keeping each inmate in prison? They are not what the states and the feds tell the public, because the states don’t use all the facts when they determine the cost of imprisoning each person they have in custody.

When states and the federal government determine the average cost of keeping an inmate in prison, they use a simple formula. They take the total state spending on prisons and divide it by the number of inmates. The numbers they arrive at are expensive and getting larger every year.

The Constitution requires that inmates receive a certain amount of care. In some areas, such as housing, that level of care is very basic. Bare concrete floors and cinderblock walls suffice. In addition to shelter, states must provide adequate levels of security, program and administrative staff to operate the facilities and provide services for the inmates, maintenance and upkeep on the buildings, food and programming, and health care. It all adds up.

The average comes to something in the neighborhood of $35,000 per year per inmate. That is more than many people in this country make. The amount varies from state to state, with Alabama spending just under $15,000 per inmate all the way to New York, which spends almost $70,000 per year per inmate.

But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. When you add in staff retirement, health care, and other benefits, the cost per inmate goes up…way up. It increases the cost of incarceration an average of $20,000 per inmate per year, making the true average yearly cost over $50,000.

While you are looking at cost to society, consider than someone with a felony on his record makes an average of 40% less per year after release than someone without a felony and this forces them to use social services programs just to live an honest life.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like much can be done to reduce those costs. Then you look closer and some things become quite obvious and simple to implement. Take a look at Community Corrections, The average cost per inmate per year in halfway houses can cost as much as $10,000 per inmate less than prison every year.

GPS ankle monitors cost a small fraction of the amount of keeping a person in prison, and just knowing that the government can see everywhere he or she goes and what that person is doing and that the consequences of misconduct will be immediate and severe keeps many people on the straight and narrow.

Probation and parole also cost a fraction of the cost of incarceration, though they are more expensive than GPS monitors. Any combination of the three can be very effective and still cost much less than incarceration.

According to a study by Time magazine, 25% of the people in prison committed nonviolent, low level felonies. These people are the perfect candidates for Community Corrections, GPS monitoring and probation or parole. This one thing by itself can reduce the prison population by one quarter, closing prisons and reducing the amount spent on prisons by a substantial amount without endangering the public. A little work can reduce the costs much more and everyone benefits.  

W. Scott Cole

Posted on August 26, 2018 14:37

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Source: HuffPost

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