No More Room, No More Money

Publication: The Economist

05/21/2009 - It was designed to hold 541 inmates, but Columbia Correctional Institute, a brick prison in Portage, Wisconsin, usually houses about 830. New building has helped a bit—metal bunks fill a concrete box added in 1997—but many cells meant to house one inmate now hold two. When there are more prisoners than bunks, as is often the case, beds are laid on the floor.

“This is pretty much typical for the system,” says Gregory Grams, Columbia’s warden. Wisconsin’s prison population grew by 14% between 2000 and 2007 but, in the same period, the rate of violent crime rose by 23%. By 2019 the number of prisoners is expected to have swollen by another 25%, with a price tag of $2.5 billion.

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State correction systems have exploded in recent decades. The Pew Center on the States, a research outfit, reports that one in 100 Americans is incarcerated. One in 31 is in prison, on parole or on probation. This is expensive. Corrections have gobbled more and more of state budgets, at a faster pace than any government service except Medicaid. In 2008 spending on corrections was 303% greater than two decades earlier.

Read the full article No More Room, No More Money on The Economist's Web site.

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