Prisons Full, Coffers Empty

Publication: The Economist

07/22/2010 - On the outskirts of Columbia, South Carolina’s capital, lies a rolling swathe of farmland where cattle graze, tomatoes sprout and razor wire glints in the afternoon sun. This well-tended campus is home to seven of the state’s 28 prisons, including both Broad River, where inmates sentenced to die are lethally injected or electrocuted, and Campbell, which houses prisoners on work-release, who spend their days at fast-food restaurants or laundries and return to their “dorms” to sleep.

Part of their earnings goes to repay the cost of jailing them. And it is a cost: from 1983 to 2008 spending on the state’s prisons increased more than sixfold, as its prison population rose from just over 9,000 to almost 25,000. That rise had several causes, among them the greater number of people imprisoned for non-violent crimes and the heavier sentences that came with new laws laying down mandatory minimum terms.


It also improves post-release and parole supervision, easing prisoners’ transition from incarceration to the working world and ensuring that fewer prisoners will be locked up for non-criminal breaches of their parole. At the same time, it increases penalties for some violent offences. The Pew Center on the States, which helped the state’s sentencing-reform commission analyse data, believes this bill will save the state almost $250m in prison building and operating costs over the next five years.

Read the entire article Prisons Full, Coffers Empty on The Economist Web site.

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