At a time of increased scrutiny of government spending and the overuse of incarceration, it is critical to have a tool that provides a complete accounting of state prison costs.

Corrections budgets usually do not show the full extent of the taxpayer cost for maintaining state prison systems. This is because state governments are inconsistent in their accounting of employee benefits and capital expenses—which are often paid by central state agencies. Additionally, many inmate expenses—like hospital care and legal claims—are provided outside of corrections budgets.

Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections developed a methodology to provide a standardized and thorough accounting of state prisons. Vera implemented this methodology in the summer of 2011, when it surveyed state corrections departments to collect budgetary data and calculate those states’ total prison costs. The resulting report details the taxpayer cost of incarcerating a sentenced adult offender to state prison in each of the 40 states that responded to Vera’s survey. The report also presents Vera’s calculation methodology, and offers recommendations about steps policy makers can take to safely rein in these costs.   

Project Objectives

  • By offering a standardized and thorough accounting of state prison costs, this project aims to provide clarity on the total cost of prisons.

  • This project and resulting report provide guidance for policy makers to safely rein in their incarceration costs.