The Prison Tax

According to a new study from the Brookings Institute, in 2010 (the latest year for which vigildata are available), US taxpayers shelled out $38.8 billion to keep Americans in prison.(1) The number has gone up since then. (Can you think of anything that isn’t?) We just don’t know what current spending is or how much privatization of prisons has added to costs.

Isn’t it time we  reduced this population? Decriminalization of certain drugs would help. Releasing inmates who are no longer a risk to anyone would help. We simply are paying too much to keep too many people behind bars.

The states that are spending the most on prisons aren’t necessarily the ones that can afford to do that. The states are ranked by the percent of the state’s budget that is spent on prisons.

  1. Arizona, $55.35 billion, or 3.08% of all state and local government spending
  2. Virginia, $2.34 billion, which is 3% of all state and local government spending
  3. California, $15.29 billion, or over $75,000 per inmate per year.
  4. Idaho, $340.1 million, or a more modest $22,182 per inmate per year (lowest in the West)
  5. Nevada, $676.0 million, or twice as much on inmates as it spends on public school students
  6. Georgia, $2.28 billion. The state is looking to reduce the prison population through the use of special drug courts and alternatives to incarceration.
  7. Maryland, $1.85 billion. This state is reducing costs by cutting Corrections staffing.
  8. New Mexico, $663.4 million. NM is facing a capacity crisis, which may drive spending up.
  9. Delaware, $302.3 million. The state is 8th highest in spending on healthcare for inmates.
  10. Montana, $268.1 million. MT is seeking to reduce the prison population through sentencing reform.
  11. Michigan, $2.5 billion. “Since 2005, the state has closed or merged 26 prison facilities, which has saved $400 million. According to The Center for Michigan, another 1,280-bed prison is expected to close in March 2018, which would save an addition $18.8 million.”
  12. Wisconsin, $1.54 billion
  13. Pennsylvania, 3.39 bilion
  14. Oregon, $1.13 billion. “Oregon incarcerates juveniles at a higher rate than almost every other state in the country, according to a report from the Oregon Council on Civil Rights. This practice is costly: it can cost $95,995 per year to imprison a juvenile, the report found.”
  15. Florida, $4.07 billion
  16. Louisians, 1.13 billion — the Prison Capital of the US. Louisiana has a higher percent of its population in jail than any other state. The prisons are run by for-profit companies, at a heavy cost to taxpayers.
  17. Texas, $5.75 billion. According to reports, Trump’s freeze on hiring in the US Dept. of Corrections is impacting education and training programs for inmates in Texas.
  18. South Dakota, $177 million
  19. Wyoming, $214 million
  20. Wyoming, $214 million
  21. Arkansas, $598 million

Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the US and extremely tough drug laws. And the taxpayers pay for it.

By the way, the states with strong economies, low poverty and high education and per capita incomes aren’t on this list.  Massachusetts, Colorado, New Jersey, Connecticut and New York aren’t on this list.

I’ve blogged about this before. Drug laws and sentencing guidelines for minor crimes in some states simply violate common sense. As more people understand what’s really happening, maybe the rules will be changed.

The picture is right in so many ways.



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