State Prison Costs Up 83 Percent In Six Years, Report Shows

WASHINGTON -- In its first analysis of state prison expenditures since 1990, the federal government's Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that correctional costs rose from $12 billion in 1990 to $22 billion in 1996, an 83 percent increase. The state prison population rose 52 percent during the same time period.

On a per capita basis, it cost every man, woman and child in the country $103 to run state prisons in 1996, up from $53 per person in 1985.

Kara Gotsch, public policy coordinator for the ACLU's National Prison Project, said that the cost increases could be attributed to increased incarceration rates.

"More and more states over the last 10 years have passed stricter sentencing laws and 'three-strikes' laws keeping people in prisons longer," she said.

California's law is considered the broadest "three strikes" law, with more than 30,000 offenders having been sentenced under its provisions since its enactment in 1994, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project.

California had the largest state prison expenditure in 1996, spending $3 billion and North Dakota had the smallest, $10.7 million

The figures come from an analysis of the 1996 Survey of Government Finances, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Bureau of Justice Statistics finance specialists contacted state budget and corrections officials to ensure the numbers were accurate and then made considerable corrections to data

The average per-inmate cost was $20,100 per year in 1996, up from $18,400 in 1990.

Minnesota spent the most per inmate annually -- $37,800 -- and Alabama spent the least -- $8,000. The report said that the difference could be attributed to costs of living, wage rates, and other factors over which correction administrators have little control.

The cost of running state prisons accounted for about 80 percent of all state correctional expenditures in 1996, the remaining 20 percent went towards juvenile justice activities, probation and parole services and community-based corrections.

"States are realizing that what we are doing now is too expensive. Taxpayers won't allow it. You can't build yourself out of the incarceration problem," said the ACLU's Kara Gotsch.

The full report can be found on the Bureau of Justice Statistics Web site.

Tags: Justice