New Vera report: ''The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers''

NEW YORK, NY—State taxpayers pay, on average, 14 percent more on prisons than corrections department budgets reflect, according to a report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice. The report, The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayerspublished todayshows that in 40 states that participated, the aggregate cost of prisons in FY2010 was $39 billion, $5.4 billion more than their corrections budgets reflected.When all costs are considered, the annual average taxpayer cost in these states was $31,286 per inmate.

While it is common knowledge that some prison costs are tracked outside corrections budgets, The Price of Prisons marks the first time these costs have been quantified for prisons across the states. To calculate the total price of prisons, Vera developed a survey tool that tallied costs outside corrections budgets. The most common of these costs were fringe benefits, underfunded contributions for corrections employees’ pension and retiree health care plans, inmate health care, capital projects, legal costs, and inmate education and training.

"This new tool changes the equation. It paints a far more accurate picture of the costs to taxpayers,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Center on the States. “State leaders already have been questioning whether corrections spending passes the cost-benefit test, especially for nonviolent offenders.”

The scale of the expenditures outside of corrections departments ranged from less than 1 percent of the total cost of Arizona’s prisons to as much as 34 percent in Connecticut. For example, the Connecticut Department of Corrections spent $613.3 million for prisons in fiscal year 2010; when all state costs are included, the total taxpayer cost was $929.4 million. The main outside costs were pension contributions ($147.1 million) and employee fringe benefits, including health insurance ($104.2 million). (For more information, see the fact sheets for states that completed the survey at

The study found the following range of prison costs outside states’ corrections budgets in 2010:

  • 20 to 34 percent in six states: Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas;
  • 10 to 19.9 percent in nine states: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Washington, and West Virginia; and
  • 5 to 9.9 percent in nine states and less than 5 percent in 16 states.
“As states continue to deal with serious budget constraints, it’s critical that policy makers, corrections officials, taxpayers, and legislators know exactly what their prisons cost,” says Vera Director Michael Jacobson. “Many states are moving toward reserving incarceration for the most dangerous people and using proven strategies to improve public safety at a lower cost.”

To help policy makers manage prison costs, the report identifies a number of measures that states have taken to reduce spending while maintaining public safety. Options include modifying sentencing and release policies, strengthening strategies to reduce recidivism, and boosting operating efficiencies. 

The publication is based on a survey conducted in August 2011 by Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, in partnership with the Pew Public Safety Performance Project. The report includes detailed methodology that state officials may use to calculate the full taxpayer price of prisons each year. Download the report and fact sheets for each participating state at

*The aggregate cost of prisons and annual average taxpayer cost for the 40 participationg states reflect revisions made after three states submitted corrections to their data.