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States' Incarceration Costs Continue to Rise

by Robert H. Woodman

In June 2004, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported that from fiscal year (FY) 1986 to FY 2001, States' corrections costs rose from $65 per U.S. resident to $134 per U.S. resident. The BJS reported that States' correctional expenditures, in 2001 constant dollars, rose 145%, from $15.6 billion in 1986 to $38.2 billion in 2001. Prison expenditures increased 150% from $11.7 billion to $29.5 billion and accounted for about 77% of total state correctional costs in 2001. By contrast, capital outlays amounted to 4% of the total 2001 costs, and prison medical care received about 12% ($3.3 billion) of the money. The expenditures cited by the BJS represent net payments after accounting for income generated for States from prison farms and industries.

The increase in States' correctional costs averaged 6.2% per year from 1986 to 2001. For state prison operations alone, per capita expenditures rose from $49 in 1986 to $104 in 2001. These increases outpaced increases in health care (5.8% annual growth), education (4.2%), and natural resources (3.3%).

The average annual State operating cost in 2001 was $22,650 per prisoner, which is equivalent to $62.05 per prisoner per day. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) spent $22,632 annually, or $62.01 daily, per prisoner. The largest prison expenditures were in California ($4.2 billion), New York ($2.8 billion), Texas ($2.3 billion), and Michigan ($1.6 billion). The smallest State prison expenditures were found in North Dakota ($26.8 million), South Dakota ($37.5 million), Vermont ($46.1 million), and Wyoming ($56.2 million). The BOP spent $3.8 billion on prisons in FY 2001.

Maine had the highest reported annual operating cost per prisoner at $44,379, followed by Rhode Island ($38,503), Massachusetts ($37,718), Minnesota ($36,836), and New York ($36,835). Alabama had the lowest reported annual operating cost per prisoner at $8,128. Next came Mississippi ($12,795 per prisoner), Missouri ($12,867), Louisiana ($12,951), and Texas ($13,808). The report found that States with the lowest annual per-prisoner operating costs had the highest prisoner-to-staff ratios in the country, while States with the highest costs had the lowest prisoner-to-staff ratios. Thus, for example, in 2001, Alabama had a ratio of 6.8 prisoners for each staff member (which equals $22 per prisoner daily), while Maine's prisoner-to-staff ratio was 1.7 ($122 per prisoner daily).

States with integrated jail-prison systems (Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont), generally have higher operating costs per resident than other State systems. Of all States, the highest costs per resident were found in the District of Columbia ($251 per resident to run corrections), Alaska ($243), and Delaware ($204). The lowest costs per resident were found in West Virginia ($34), North Dakota ($38), and New Hampshire and Minnesota ($48 each).

Prisoner medical care costs were lower than comparable costs among non-incarcerated American citizens. State corrections put about 12% of their costs, or $3.3 billion total, into prisoner medical care in 2001. That amounts to $7.19 per prisoner per day. Among all non-incarcerated U.S. residents, expenditures for medical care from all sources amounted to approximately $11.97 per resident per day.

The report is titled "State Prison Expenditures, 2001," and is published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics under report number NCJ202949 (June 2004). The report can be obtained by writing to NCJRS, Post Office Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000, or it can be downloaded from the BJS website at

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