What It Costs to Run Prisons in Your State

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Nearly 1.5 million Americans were incarcerated in state prisons in 2016. That same year, U.S. states spent about $58 billion to keep these people locked up.

How much each state spends on prisons goes far beyond a simple per prisoner calculation. In fact, there is little to no correlation between the states that spend the most per capita and the states with more prisoners per capita. Instead, variations in state spending boil down to a range of budgetary factors and policy decisions.

Prisons have many expenses related to their main function of confining lawbreakers. In addition to securing the prisoners with infrastructure, technology, and personnel, they have to provide inmates with basic necessities such as food, health care, and even entertainment. On a per capita basis, state prison spending ranges from less than $100 per person to nearly $500 per person. 24/7 Wall st. reviewed the states with the highest and lowest prison spending per person.

According to research conducted by the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization, one of the primary drivers of the differences in state prison spending per capita is salaries for prison personnel. The cost of hiring staff, according to the group’s 2015 report “The Price of Prisons,” accounts for 68% of total prison spending.

As a result, states where correctional workers have higher average salaries tend to spend more per capita, and the opposite is true among low spending states. Of the 20 states with the lowest per-capita spending, just four have an average correctional officer annual wage higher than the national average of $43,550.

To identify how much each state spends on corrections, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed state prison spending from the National Association of State Budget Officers, as collected by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit focusing on criminal justice reform. Average annual correctional officer salaries are from the Department of Labor. Incarceration rates and the share of prisoners in private prisons are from The Sentencing Project, and crime rates per 100,000 are from the FBI Unified Crime report. All figures listed are for 2016, with the exception of the private prisoner figure, which is for 2015.

Click here to see what it costs to run prisons in your state.

Source: snikeltrut / Getty Images

50. Illinois
> State correctional institution spending: $85.38 per capita ($1.1 billion)
> State prisoners: 341 per 100,000 residents (22nd lowest)
> Average correctional officer salary: 
$51,890 (8th highest)
> State prisoners in private prisons:
none

 

Source: SayCheeeeeese / Wikimedia Commons

49. New Hampshire
> State correctional institution spending: $87.65 per capita ($117 million)
> State prisoners: 211 per 100,000 residents (7th lowest)
> Average correctional officer salary: 
$40,130 (22nd highest)
> State prisoners in private prisons: 
none

Source: LPETTET / Getty Images

48. Nevada
> State correctional institution spending: $100.00 per capita ($294 million)
> State prisoners: 460 per 100,000 residents (12th highest)
> Average correctional officer salary:
N/A
> State prisoners in private prisons:
N/A

Source: mikecogh / Flickr

47. Minnesota
> State correctional institution spending: $101.45 per capita ($560 million)
> State prisoners: 191 per 100,000 residents (3rd lowest)
> Average correctional officer salary: 
$45,120 (15th highest)
> State prisoners in private prisons: 
none

Source: andrewbain / Flickr

46. West Virginia
> State correctional institution spending: $109.77 per capita ($201 million)
> State prisoners: 392 per 100,000 residents (22nd highest)
> Average correctional officer salary: 
$33,290 (17th lowest)
> State prisoners in private prisons: 
none