- Politics and Social Issues
The Average Cost to House Inmates in Prison
Imprisoned in the USA
It comes with no great shock that the United States has the highest incarceration rate amongst the affluent members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the entire world. Of the top thirty countries, the US towers above the other countries by nearly 75% more convictions and incarcerations per 100,000 people. If you throw in the other members of the OECD, the non-affluent members, the US continues to out-rank all other countries. including those that have high rates of genocide.
In 2008, the United States spent nearly $75 billion on corrections; most of which went towards incarceration. It is estimated that about $16.9 billion might have been shaved off of the total if steps had been taken to reduce the number of non-violent offenders currently "doing time".
Jail VS Prison
In most of the 50 states, the difference between prison and jail is the length of a convicted person's sentence. If a convicted felon is sentenced to a year or more in lock down, they will go to prison. If they are sentenced to less than a year, they will typically go to jail. The exceptions to this standard are Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Vermont which all incorporate prison and jail together into one system.
In 1960, 1 in every 153 men was incarcerated in the United States. By 2008, that number grew substantially to 1 in every 48 men. It is believed that stricter sentencing guidelines; the "tough on crime" approach was and remains the culprit for the steady rise in prison populations. Evidence to support this can be seen by the decline in both violent and property crimes and the continuous rise in inmate counts.
Why Are Prisons Overpopulated?
With new protocols such as mandatory minimums, three strikes and truth in sentencing, persons who would normally receive lighter sentences such as probation or community service are now being committed to jail or prison. Non-violent offenders now account for nearly 25% of all inmates. In 1980 that number was 10%.
Experts agree that the available evidence supports the opposition of warehousing non-violent offenders as a deterrent to criminal activity. While imprisonment might have a slightly negative impact, the cost to house inmates that could live successfully outside of prison walls.
How Many and How Much?
Today state penitentiaries give home to 60% of inmates and therefore assume the largest share of costs. Local domains account for 30% and federal inmates take up about 10%. It currently costs about $26,000 per year to keep an inmate locked down. It costs between $1,300-$2,800 per year to keep a sentenced person on probation or parole. If the United States took 50% of the non-violent offenders - people who are first time offenders and put them on probation or parole, it would mean a savings of about $16.9 billion dollars.
The United States prison population has grown by more than 350% since 1980. Unfortunately that tremendous growth is not succinct with population growth. Although legislatures are working to find alternatives to incarceration for the non-violent offenders and those who could potentially "do time" in community corrections programs, progress is slow. There is no statistical data that suggests or has proven that tougher sentencing guidelines and warehousing inmates are useful as preventative measures.
- Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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