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May 21, 2015

New Vera Institute of Justice report highlights the true, high "Price of Jails"

Vera-300x188The Vera Institute of Justice has just published this important new report titled, "The Price of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration." I received a press release about the report which provides this summary of its coverage and findings:

Hidden costs make jails far more expensive than previously understood, according to a new report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice, The Price of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration. Because other government agencies, whose expenditures are not reflected in jail budgets, bear a large share of costs, the report finds that Americans significantly underestimate how much of their tax dollars are being spent on incarceration.

While the U.S. Department of Justice estimated that local communities spent $22.2 billion on jails in 2011, that figure fails to take into account significant costs such as employee benefits and inmate medical care that may not be included in jail budgets. For example, in addition to the $1.1 billion spent by the City of New York Department of Corrections in 2014, other agencies spent $1.3 billion on jail employee benefits, health care and education programs for incarcerated people, and administration, bringing the total cost to $2.4 billion—more than double the official jail budget....

Despite growing national attention to the large number of Americans confined in state and federal prisons, significantly less attention has been paid to local criminal justice systems, where over-incarceration begins. There are nearly 12 million local jail admissions every year — almost 20 times the number of prison admissions, and equivalent to the populations of Los Angeles and New York City combined. The report found that the high cost of jails is most directly tied to inmate population and associated personnel costs, rather than to misspent funds in any one particular budget area.

The report’s findings are based on surveys of 35 jail systems, representing small, medium, and large jails in 18 states from every region of the country, and representing 9% of the total jail population. The survey results confirm that determining the total cost of a jail is not a simple task, even for the agency that runs it. In documenting jail expenses—which in every case surveyed extended beyond the reported corrections budget—and who pays for them, the report finds that, by and large, local taxpayers foot the bill for jails, and the costs are much higher than most people realize.

“Jails are a tremendous public cost,” said Julia Stasch, President of the MacArthur Foundation, which supported the report. “This new report proves those costs are even higher than previously thought, adding urgency to the need for reform that addresses their overuse and misuse in fiscally strapped jurisdictions nationwide.”

In addition to developing a first-of-its-kind survey for jurisdictions to use that accurately measures all of the costs of running a jail, the report reveals:

May 21, 2015 at 11:37 AM | Permalink


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There is an aversion to thinking of these issues from a budgetary perspective, but a good question to ask would be: "What kind of sentence would you devise for a state's group of low to mid-level offenders if your budget were limited to $5,000-$10,000 per year, on average per offender?"

Indeed, maybe that question is too preconceived. Perhaps a better question would be, "if you budget $X per convicted [misdemeanor/low level felony] offender, on average, what is the most effective way to use those funds to sanction the offender?"

Inherent in both is the notion that the amount society is willing to spend to punish someone for an offense ought to be proportional to the economic impact (broadly defined) of the crime.

Posted by: ohwilleke | May 22, 2015 4:52:17 PM

What about the 100 to 1 return on investment? What value is placed on preventing the 200 crimes a year, these super predators are not committing while in prison? Are they worth $50,000 or really $5 million to prevent? No mention by this stupid left wing, pro-criminal, big government, lawyer dumbass propaganda. it treats us as we were children who will believe anything.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 23, 2015 7:39:43 AM

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