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
9 Michigan, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $1.3 billion
8 Ohio, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $ 1.32 billion
7 New Jersey, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $ 1.4 billion
6 Illinois, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $1.7 billion
5 Pennsylvania, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $2.05 billion
4 Florida, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $2.08 billion
3 Texas, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $3.3 billion
2 New York, Annual Taxpayer Cost of Prisons: $3.6 billion
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.
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