At Least 23 States Cut Funding for Prisons This Year

By John Gramlich

A $1 billion cost-cutting plan announced last week by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) will translate into layoffs for more than a thousand state prison workers.

In Oregon, a voter-approved plan to hand longer prison sentences to those who commit property crimes was delayed by state lawmakers who said they could not pay for it.

Tennessee's department of corrections has sought to save money by offering inmates less milk and meat in their daily meals.

And in Kansas — which has received national attention in recent years for shifting resources from locking up prisoners to rehabilitating them — the state eliminated 85 percent of the slots in its substance-abuse treatment program for inmates, citing budget constraints.

The national recession is taking its toll on what had been one of the fastest-growing areas of state government spending: prisons. Even though state corrections budgets have ballooned in the past two decades amid a surging U.S. prison population, at least 23 states slashed funding for prisons this year, according to a new survey by the nonpartisan Vera Institute of Justice, a research organization based in New York. Thirty-three states responded to the survey, paid for by The Pew Charitable Trusts, which also funds Stateline.org.

Six states — Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and Washington — cut funding for corrections by more than 10 percent from last year's levels, according to the study. Kansas saw the biggest recorded decrease, spending 22 percent less than it did last year.

Corrections is the fifth-largest area of state spending after Medicaid, secondary education, higher education and transportation. State spending on prisons has swelled as the nation's jail and prison population has climbed to 2.3 million people, or about one in every 100 adults. But grim budget realities are forcing state lawmakers' hand.

Read the full report At Least 23 States Spend Less on Prisons on Stateline.org