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U.S. Department of Justice Reports Soaring Justice Expenditures

by Matthew T. Clarke

In a recently-published report, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of the U.S. Department of Justice documented the soaring costs of the justice system in the United States.

The BJS report is for the year 2001 and includes statistics on expenditures and employment in the justice system at the local, state, and federal levels from 1982 through 2001. The report encompasses police, jails and prisons, judicial and legal activities. The outstanding feature of the report was the dramatic increase in overall expenditures to $167 billion in 2001. This represents an increase of 366% (165% in constant dollars) over the $36 billion in justice system expenditures in 1982.

The federal government bore the brunt of the change, increasing its expenditures by 583% from 1982 through 2001 compared to 446% for the states and 298% for local governments. At each level of government, jails and prisons were the main reason for the increase. The corrections" component of the federal budget increased 861% from 1982 through 2001 compared to an increase of 538% for the states and 455% for local governments. Seen another way, the cost of the justice system rose from $158 per person in 1982 to $586 per person in 2001. During the same time period, the costs of the corrections" component of the justice system rose from $39 per person to $200 per person, as in every person in the United States.

In March 2001, 2.3 million people--2% of the national labor forceworked for the justice system in the United States. Over half worked at the local level and 63% of the local level employees worked in police protection. A third of the justice system employees were State employees. 63% of the State employees worked in corrections. Only 9% of the justice system employees worked for the federal government. Over half of the federal workers were employed in police protection. The March 2001 justice system payroll was $8.1 billion. This is 59% of the overall justice system expenditures.

63% of the overall corrections expenditures were made by the States. 70% of the overall police protection expenditures were by local governments. Local governments made 42% of the overall judicial and legal services expenditure; the States paid for 36% of those expenditures.

Seen as a percentage of State and local budgets, expenditures on the justice system increased from 4% in 1981 to 7% in 2001. This compared with the percentage of the budget spent on education dropping from 31% to 30%.

At 68%, police protection had the highest percentage of expenditures for payrolls. Corrections had 50%, the lowest rate. 17.4% of all Nevada State employees worked in the justice system, the highest of any State. West Virginia was the lowest at 7.8%. The average per capita employment rate for justice system workers in the State and local governments was 70 per 10,000 residents. New York had the highest per capita rate at 94 per 10,000 (D.C. was higher at 118 per 10,000, but may be skewed by the presence of the national government). West Virginia had the lowest per capita rate at 42 per 10,000. Vermont had the fewest State and local police per capita at 15 per 10,000 residents. D.C. had the highest rate at 62 per 10,000. D.C. also had the highest corrections employees rate per capita at 35 per 10,000 residents, closely followed by Texas and New York with 33 per 10,000 residents. West Virginia had the lowest per capita rate of corrections employees at 9 per 10,000 residents.

Overall, the report shows skyrocketing costs of the justice system in the United States. What is not shown and is more difficult to quantify is whether the people of the United States are getting more justice for the greater costs. The report is titled Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2001. BJS Bulletin NCJ 202792 (May 2004).

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