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Justice Department Releases Report on Justice Expenditures and Employment

by Matt Clarke

In December 2011, the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice released a report on employment and expenditures by federal, state and local governments for police, jails, prisons, courts and lawyers. The information covered the period from FY 1982 through FY 2007 with data points every 5 years.

Employment in all fields increased 93% from a total of 1.3 million employees in 1982 to 2.5 million in 2007. Police employment made up the bulk of the justice employees. It decreased from 57% of all justice employees in 1982 to 48% in 2007 while corrections employees increased from 24% in 1982 to 32% in 2007, having hit a maximum of 32% in 1997. Judicial/legal services employees remained steady at 20% in 1982 and 21% in 2007.

Local police and state corrections were the largest subcategories of employees. Local police fell from 47% of all justice employees in 1982 to 36% in 2007 while state corrections climbed from 15% to 19% after peaking at 22% in 1997.

During the study period, about half (53% to 57%) of all judicial/legal services employees worked at the local level, while about a third (30% to 35%) worked at the state level and about a ninth (11% to 15%) worked at the federal level. About two-thirds (62% to 65%) of corrections employees worked at the state level, while about a third (31% to 35%) worked at the state level and the federal level made up only 3% to 5%. Three-quarters of police were employed at the local level with 9% to 11% at the state level and 8% to 11% at the federal level.

The justice employment rate increased from 5.5 employees per 1,000 U.S. residents in 1982 to 8.2 in 2001, then held steady through 2007. Police made up the bulk of the rate in 2007 with 3.9 per 1,000 residents while corrections and judicial/legal services at 2.6 and 1.7 per 1,000, respectively.

All of those justice employees cost the government $228 billion in 2007, an inflation-adjusted increase of 171% over the costs in 1982. Expenditures attributed to the federal, state and local governments increased significantly between each of the successive five-year periods except 2002-2007. In that period, a 4.7% decrease in state level expenditures caused total spending to remain flat even as federal and local costs increased 7.4% and 0.9%, respectively.

Inflation-adjusted expenditures increased in all categories from 1982 through 2002 with spending on police increasing 126%, judicial/legal services costs increasing 182% and corrections outlay rising by 255%. Between 2002 and 2007, police expenditures increased 3% while corrections declined by 2% and justice/legal services declined by 3%.

From 1982 through 2007, the cost of policing declined from 53% to 46% of total justice expenditures while corrections costs increased from 25% to 33% and judicial/legal spending remained constant at 22%. Local police and state corrections made up the largest component of justice expenditures. Local police declined from 40% of total spending in 1982 to 32%, in 2007 while state corrections increased from 16% in 1982 to 21% in 1997 before falling to 19% in 2007.

Local governments accounted for half (49%) of the total judicial/legal expenditures in 1982 while the federal government was responsible for 16%. In 2007, local (40%) and state (38%) governments provided about the same amount of judicial/legal funding while federal funding accounted for 22%.

Local police expenditures made up 75% of the total police costs in 1982 and 70% in 2007. During that time, federal police expenditures grew from 11% to 19% and state police spending grew slightly from 11% to 13%.

State corrections expenditures varied between 59% and 63% of total corrections funding between 1982 and 2007 while local corrections costs remained between 30% and 34% and federal outlay stayed between 5% and 9%.

Inflation-adjusted per capita justice expenditures grew from $363 per U.S. resident in 1982, peaking at $791 in 2002 before declining to $755 in 2007. The greatest per capita expenditure in 2007 was for police ($344), followed by corrections ($246) and judicial/legal ($165). The overall trend was a steady increase in per capita expenditures in all components until 2002. From 2002 to 2007, police per capita expenditures decreased by 2% while they decreased by 7% in both the corrections and judicial/legal categories.

The statistics aptly show the priorities of the U.S. justice system. The greatest amount is spent on police-- triple the spending on judicial and legal services. Yet no one in the justice system is charged with protecting citizens' rights, save a tiny subset of the judicial/legal services employees, who work for the component which receives the least funding.

Source: Justice Expenditures and Employment, FY 1982-2007 - Statistical Tables, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics Report # NCJ 236218, available online at

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