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BJS Report: The Price of Justice in 2003

by Michael Rigby

In 2003 the U.S. spent a staggering $185 billion to fund its burgeoning ?justice? system, according to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics released in March 2006. That figure includes funds spent on prisons and jails, police protection, and judicial and legal activities.

The figure also represents a 418% increase over the $36 billion spent in 1982. To put it another way, running the justice system in 2003 cost every man, woman, and child in the nation an estimated $618.

In fact, at the state and local levels, justice expenditures comprised about 7.2% of all public expenditures in 2003?roughly the same amount these governments spent on hospitals. Much of this spending is a direct result of the ?war on drugs,? wherein imprisonment has become more important than treatment or rehabilitation.

At the federal level, the largest part of the justice budget in 2003?$20 billion out of a total $35 billion?went to police protection. Even so, between 1982 and 2003 the largest percentage increase in federal justice expenditures was seen in the corrections budget, which rose an estimated 925%. Expenditures for police protection also rose dramatically?708% during the same period. Not surprisingly, judicial and legal services?which includes representation for poor defendants?increased the least (573%).

With a total 2.3 million employees?roughly 2% of the entire U.S. workforce?economics has come to play a large part in the nation?s justice system. When considered individually, roughly 13% of all state and local government employees work in the justice system.

The majority of state budgets?$39 billion out of a total $66 billion?went toward corrections. Much if not most of this money was used to finance bloated payrolls. California boasted the highest number of full time justice system employees in March 2003 (238,806) followed by New York (176,622) and Texas (155,979).

Texas, however, had the highest percentage?nearly half (46%) of all its justice system employees?assigned to corrections, most as prison and jail guards. An interesting point to note is that in 2005 the Texas legislature was forced to hold three special sessions in order to find enough money to fund the state?s schools. The state?s $2 billion plus prison budget, however, sailed through without a hitch.

Get a copy of the report, Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 2003 on PLN?s website.

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