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Public Policy

The Cost of Prisons

Ian Scott on Wednesday, August 19, 2009 at 12:04:44 am

Budget cuts will be a reality for many states in the coming months and years.  Chambers of commerce need to press state legislators to take a long, hard look at state spending and help identify areas were cuts might be appropriate.

One major cost center that state's can not overlook in this economy is the penal system.  According to the Vera Institute of Justice, corrections come second only to Medicaid, as the fastest growing general fund expenditure in the United States.  An article in last week's Economist cited California's per inmate expenditure at $49,000 annually.

It is possible to cut costs in the penal system through operating efficiencies, recidivism reduction and release policy, and thereare best practice examples for each.  However, all can be politically difficult to achieve.

As your state examines potential budget cuts that will impact vital programs, make sure you know options - like penal system reform - that can also be put on the table for discussion.

For a more an overview of this issue, check out Neal Peirce's column from the lasted issue of Citiwire - Prison Spending Hits a Brick Wall

To get in-depth and learn best practices for reducing the cost of corrections, heck out this Vera Institute report - The Fiscal Crisis in Corrections: Rethinking Policies and Practices.  The Vera Institute of Justice is an independent, non-profit committed to addressing issues in the justice system through research and technical assistance. 

For more info look at the Pew Center on the States - Public Safety Performance Initiative.  Their 2008 Report - One in 100: Behind Bars in America - chronicles the swelling prison population and the unsustainable impact it is having on state budgets.

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