> Average time served in 2009: 3.2 years
> Change in length of stay from 1990: 75%
> Cost to state of keeping prisoners longer: $536.1 million
The average prison time served in Georgia has increased by 75% since 1990, making it the sixth-largest percentage increase. Prisoners incarcerated for drug-related crimes in Georgia could serve 85% more time in 2009 than they would have in 1990. Those serving for violent criminal offenses spent an average of 5.6 years behind bars, 12% more time than the national average. The increased length of time served has resulted in an increased cost of $28,563 per inmate for a total of $536.1 million.
> Average time served in 2009: 3.3 years
> Change in length of stay from 1990: 91%
> Cost to state of keeping prisoners longer: $518.8 million
The average prisoner released in Virginia in 1990 had served just 1.7 years — well below the then-national average of 2.1 years. By 2009, Virginia’s average time served had increased by 91% to 3.3 years, the second-highest percentage increase in the nation. Much of this increase was driven by a rise in the percentage of sentences served: from 1990 to 2000 the length of sentences served rose 71% for violent crimes and 116% for nonviolent crimes. This trend continued from 2000 to 2009, when the length of sentences served rose another 18% for violent crimes and 10% for nonviolent crimes. Such policies are extremely expensive. Simply keeping those prisoners released in 2009 incarcerated for longer cost more than a half a billion dollars.
3. New York
> Average time served in 2009: 3.6 years
> Change in length of stay from 1990: 2%
> Cost to state of keeping prisoners longer: $65.6 million
New York was the only state on this list that decreased incarceration time for both drug and property crimes. But between 1990 and 2009, the average length of prison stay for violent crimes increased by 24% to six years, a full year longer than the national average. With the second-highest nationwide cost per month of imprisonment, at $5,006 per inmate, decreasing detention length could help the state save millions in correctional facility costs. Keeping offenders in prison longer has cost New York $65.6 million, a relatively small amount given the increased cost per month.
> Average time served in 2009: 3.8 years
> Change in length of stay from 1990: 32%
> Cost to state of keeping prisoners longer: $316.6 million
In 1990, time served in Pennsylvania for violent, property and drug crimes were already comparatively high. By 2009 the average length of stay had reached 5.9 years for violent crimes, 2.9 years for property crimes and 2.8 years for drug crimes. These increases were due largely to changes in the percentage of sentences served, as sentence lengths have increased only marginally in the past 10 years. According to Pew, this was partially the result of changes in how prisoners received parole. In 1994 it took one vote from a five-person board to receive parole, but by 1996 five out nine votes were required to receive parole.
> Average time served in 2009: 4.3 years
> Change in length of stay from 1990: 79%
> Cost to state of keeping prisoners longer: $471.9 million
Michigan has the longest average incarceration among all states surveyed, with an average time served of 4.3 years. That is almost half a year more than any other state and three years more than South Dakota, the state with the lowest length of stay. Michigan imposes especially long prison sentences for violent crimes, which carry an average time served of 7.6 years, a full 2.6 years more than the national average. The state also imposes long sentences for drug crimes, as the average time served was 2.9 years for prisoners released in 2009, tied for the second-highest average. This commitment to the state’s penal system has been especially expensive, as the state spent $53,247 to keep the average prisoner incarcerated for an additional 23 months. This average extra cost per prisoner was greater than in any other state in the nation.
Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E. M. Hess and Lisa Nelson