Imprisonment, the high price of crime, is a subject that’s often highly contentious. Many see incarceration as justice served to individuals who don’t abide by the rules of society, while others who promote rehabilitation argue that prison is an inhumane practice that further propagates criminal minds. Such contrasting opinions definitely make for one touchy issue.
Whatever your stance on imprisonment, it's undeniable that the United States’ bloating correctional budget has been inflated and exhausted in the nation's effort to secure the protection of its citizens. In America, a utopian ideal of a crime-free nation is a long way from being achieved; it’s typical for ex-convicts to return to prison after being released, with studies showing that the recidivism rate in the U.S. has hovered around the 60% mark since the 90s.
According to the International Center for Prison Studies, the United States is one of the world leaders in the highest rate of incarcerated individuals (and consequently a high-cost national corrections budget) with as many as 716 imprisoned individuals per every 100,000 Americans. These numbers become all the more startling when compared to Russia’s 484 inmates per 100,000 people or China’s 121 inmates per 100,000 people. The U.S. spends a total of 39 billion taxpayer dollars on its prison systems, with several millions being spent outside of each state’s respective correctional budget. The prison population in the U.S. now exceeds over 700 percent since the 1970s, with the number of both male and female African American and Hispanic prisoners far exceeding that of white prisoners.
These troublesome realities present a bleak outlook for the U.S. prison system; studies show that both infrastructural and social changes are needed for the rates of imprisonment to decrease. Education has been shown to correlate with a reduction in the rate of criminality: A 2003 study estimated that in the U.S., a mere 1 percent increase of the high school completion rate for men between the ages of 20-60 could potentially afford the country $1.4 billion per year in reduced crime related costs. With the numbers of incarcerated individuals rising and the cost to keep them imprisoned inevitably increasing, the $1.4 billion estimate would be even higher today.
To further paint this picture, the VERA Institute of Justice has collected data from 2011 for 40 U.S. states, focusing on the overall costs of statewide prisons in terms of taxpayer dollars as well as each state’s out-of-budget prison-related expenses (excluding: Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wyoming, and South Carolina). Based on VERA’s numbers, we've ranked below the 10 U.S. states that spend the most taxpayer dollars on prisons annually.
10 North Carolina: $1.2 billion
North Carolina has 61 state prisons that cost taxpayers $1.2 billion annually to run. The North Carolina Department of Corrections detains a total of 38,000 inmates who each cost the state $29,965 a year to house. In 2010, North Carolina spent 9.1 percent of the total annual cost to taxpayers in prison-related expenses outside of its state corrections budget.
9 Michigan, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $1.3 billion
Michigan’s prison system cost taxpayers $1.3 billion in 2010 alone. $69.7 million dollars were spent on prison-related expenses outside of the Michigan Department of Corrections budget. The state spends $28,117 annually on housing each inmate and there are currently 45,096 imprisoned inmates statewide.
8 Ohio, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $ 1.32 billion
Ohio’s state prisons cost taxpayers $ 1.32 billion a year. The Ohio Department of Corrections spent $50.5 million that year on prison-related expenses outside of the its state budget. Ohio has 35 prisons and the cost to house each inmate averages $25,814 a year - that's more than a third of a teacher's average annual salary in Ohio. There are approximately 50,960 inmates currently behind bars in Ohio.
7 New Jersey, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $ 1.4 billion
The prison system in New Jersey costs taxpayers $ 1.4 billion a year. 18 percent of the total amount was spent on prison-related costs that exceeded the state's corrections budget. The 25,822 inmates imprisoned in New Jersey cost the state a huge $54,865 each - that's $40,000 more than standard tuition fees at a public four-year college in New Jersey.
6 Illinois, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $1.7 billion
Illinois spends $1.7 billion in taxpayer dollars to house its 45,551 prisoners. 32.5 percent of the total cost exceeded the state’s corrections budget, amounting to a total of $566.1 million according to the VERA Institute study. Clearly a rapidly expanding industry, Illinois had 21 prisons built in two decades, straining taxpayer dollars to meet the high demand for prison housing.
5 Pennsylvania, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $2.05 billion
The cost of prisons to taxpayers in Pennsylvania was $2.05 billion in 2010. The state also incurred $463.8 million out of budget costs for its prisons, totaling 22.6 percent of the overall annual cost. There are 48,543 inmates imprisoned in Pennsylvania and each one costs the state $42,339 a year to house.
4 Florida, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $2.08 billion
Florida has 55 prisons statewide that cost taxpayers $2.08 billion in 2010 alone. A total of $29.4 million was spent outside of the state's correction budget in 2011. Florida has a total of 100,455 inmates that each cost the state $20, 553 a year to house. The state's incredibly high recidivism rate - one in three inmates released from Florida prisons return to prison within 3 years of their release - brings to question whether the state’s efforts are truly ‘corrective’.
3 Texas, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $3.3 billion
Texas prisons cost taxpayers $3.3 billion annually at a total cost of $21,390 per inmate. 23.7 percent of the state's prison-related costs surpassed its corrections budget in 2011. Texas houses over 639 prisoners for every 100,000 members of the state's population, which makes it one of the nation’s top 5 leaders in the number of incarcerated individuals, leading to problems of overcrowding.
2 New York, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $3.6 billion
New York imprisons 70,000 criminals and spends $3.6 billion taxpayer dollars in keeping them behind bars. A total of 22.8 percent of the state's prison-related expenses exceeded the corrections budget according to VERA statistics. There are a total of 70 prisons in the state of New York. A single inmate in a New York prison costs taxpayers $60,076 annually, more than the cost of tuition at some of the nation's most prestigious institutions and more than many Americans' average annual salary.
1 California, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $7.9 billion
The Sunshine State spends a total of $7.9 billion taxpayer dollars on its 33 prisons. The overall annual cost per inmate in California is $47, 421 and VERA reports that a total of $969.7 million dollars exceeded the state’s corrections budget. There are 140,000 inmates imprisoned in California and on average 71.3 percent of those on parole are sent back to prison. These rising numbers produce a huge prison overcrowding problem in California and raise serious questions about the effectiveness of the state's correctional system.