Special Report

What It Costs to Run Prisons in Your State

In a country with as many residents as the United States, some people are bound to break the law. But Americans are more likely to be incarcerated than residents of any other nation, with over 1.4 million people in state prisons as of 2017. 

In addition to those in prison, millions more are in the legal system. Over 4.5 million more people are either on parole or probation, and hundreds of thousands more are incarcerated in local jails. 

Crime has wide-ranging societal impacts that stretch beyond just the victim and perpetrator. Incarcerating and rehabilitating those in prison is costly. All states spend at least $100 per capita to the state corrections department. Some states spend over $300 per resident.

24/7 Wall St. reviewed state prison spending from the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASB) 2018 State Expenditure Report to determine what is costs to run prisons in each state. Total U.S. prison population figures include federal prisoners, while state prison population figures only consider state prisons.

The need for prisons varies by state. Some have relatively little crime and can function without many facilities. Others have much higher violent crime rates and need many prisons to house those who have been convicted. These are America’s most violent states.

Not all prisons are run the same way. Some are government owned, while others are for-profit facilities run by private corporations. Private prisons have been heavily criticized as opponents say they create an incentive for minor offenders to receive lengthy sentences. Just over half of all states house at least some share of convicts in private prisons, though that figure ranges from 0.1% up to 43.1%.

Any discussion of the criminal justice system would be incomplete without mentioning the racial disparity in American prisons. The incarceration rate for black Americans is more than five times the rate for white Americans. Historic residential segregation has led to wide gaps in the quality of schools between majority-white and majority-black neighborhoods. This can lead to lower educational attainment rates, which in turn contribute to disparities in other measures like income, unemployment, and incarceration. These are the worst cities for black Americans.

Click here to see what it cost to run prisons in your state

To identify how much each state spends on corrections, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed state prison spending data from the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASB) 2018 State Expenditure Report. Average annual correctional officer salaries are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Survey for May 2018. Incarceration rates for 2017 and the share of prisoners in private prisons for 2016 are from The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice advocacy organization, and crime rates per 100,000 are from the 2017 FBI Unified Crime report. U.S. prison population figures include federal prisoners, while state figures only include state prisons.

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