Paying the price of mass incarceration
by Leah Sakala, May 23, 2014
While working on an upcoming report, I set out to find the answer to a relatively straightforward question: What is the direct fiscal cost of incarceration in the United States?
The answer, it turns out, was not readily available. So I started to pull some sources. Here’s what I found for correctional expenses in 2010:
- States spent $48.5 billion
- The federal Bureau of Prisons spent $6.2 billion
- Local governments spent $27.7 billion.
This means that the U.S.’s incarceration tab in 2010 came out to a whopping $82.4 billion.
That’s a lot of money, but it’s also a significant underestimate for two important reasons:
- This figure does not include expenses related to law enforcement, courts, or other pieces of the mass incarceration pie, such as the immigration detention system.
- This figure also does not include the huge and unquantifiable social price of overcriminalization, which falls on the shoulders of families, communities, and future generations.