Economic Impacts of Prison Growth

So You Think a New Prison Will Save Your Town?
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A new report by The Pew Charitable Trusts finds that in 44 states that reported prison population data by age to researchers, the number of older individuals increased by a median of 41 percent from fiscal years to , expanding from 7 percent of the total to 10 percent. Indeed, the share of older prisoners increased in every state that provided data, topping out in fiscal at a range of less than 8 percent in Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, New Jersey, and North Dakota to more than 12 percent in Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Like senior citizens outside prison walls, older individuals in prison are more likely to experience dementia, impaired mobility, and loss of hearing and vision. In prisons, these ailments present special challenges and can necessitate increased staffing levels and enhanced officer training to accommodate those who have difficulty complying with orders from correctional officers.

They can also require structural accessibility adaptations, such as special housing and wheelchair ramps. Additionally, as the Bureau of Justice Statistics found , older inmates are more susceptible to costly chronic medical conditions. They typically experience the effects of age sooner than people outside prison because of issues such as substance use disorder, inadequate preventive and primary care before incarceration, and stress linked to the isolation and sometimes violent environment of prison life.

For these reasons, older individuals have a deepening impact on prison budgets. Estimates of the increased cost vary. The National Institute of Corrections pegged the annual cost of incarcerating those 55 or older who have chronic and terminal illnesses at two to three times that for all others on average. More recently, other researchers have found that the cost differential may be wider. The graying of state prisons stems from an increase in admissions of older people to prison and the use of longer sentences as a public safety strategy.

From to , admissions of those 55 or older increased by 82 percent—higher than the overall population growth for that age bracket—even as they declined for the younger group. The share of federal prisoners held in private prisons increased from 3 percent in to 19 percent in —notably in immigration detention centers. However, in August , the BOP announced their intention to phase out private prison contracts over the next five years. In response to voter rejection of funding for new prisons and orders by federal judges to relieve overcrowding , some states turned to private companies to build new prisons.

Private prison arrangements are attractive to state officials in part because the companies are able to build prisons quickly and without the need for voter approval.

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Lease-purchase agreements are the most common type of arrangement, in which the state signs a long-term lease for the prison and receives the title when the debt and finance charges are fully paid. Since their first use in Kentucky, private prisons have expanded to 29 other states. California and Hawaii send prisoners to out-of-state private prisons. This means that the map does not necessarily show the location of private prisons, but rather the extent to which the state contracts with these facilities. While 20 states do not use private prisons at all, a few states make very extensive use: for instance, nearly 44 percent of all New Mexico prisoners are held in private prisons.

Northeastern states generally do not use private prisons, while Southern states and some Western states tend to make greater use of them.

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Some larger states with high incarceration rates also hold a disproportionately large share of state-level private prisoners. Advocates for the use of private prisons argue that private prisons lower costs and improve quality by introducing competition. Although private prisons do compete with public prisons, the extent to which private firms compete with each other for prison contracts is fairly minimal because there are few firms in the business.

Older individuals have more chronic illnesses and other ailments that necessitate greater spending

Economic Impacts of Prison Growth. Congressional Research Service. Summary. The U.S. corrections system has gone through an. Download Citation on ResearchGate | Economic Impacts of Prison Growth | The U.S. corrections system has gone through an unprecedented expansion during.

Competition between firms may have previously played a larger role, as in there were 12 for-profit prison firms managing adult correctional facilities. Since then, however, eight of the firms competitors have been absorbed by other companies and only two new firms have opened. This type of market concentration is particularly visible when observing private prison companies within states. Market concentration raises concerns that firms will not face sufficient competition to achieve the hoped-for benefits of lower prices and higher quality.

In addition, consolidation of market share creates stronger incentives for each company to lobby for favorable legislation. For example, if there were many small private prison companies, no single company would stand to benefit in particular from legislation that increases mandatory minimums for sentence length. When a single company houses 55 percent of the state-level private prisoners, however, the benefits to lobbying become much more concentrated.

Private prison companies aim to achieve the goals of the correctional system at lower cost and with higher quality. Advocates of private prisons argue that the competitive marketplace and absence of bureaucratic constraints allow private entities to develop efficient prison operation practices. Research on whether private prisons improve efficiency is limited, but does not contain strong evidence that private prisons are more efficient than their public counterparts.

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In order to compare the cost of both public and private prisons, it is important to include capital costs of the prison facility and monitoring costs for the state agency that oversees the contract with the prison. In addition, one must account for differences in required security levels and inmate needs, which affect the expense of running a prison. Private companies are not required to release many details of their operations, including details on the cost of the services they provide, which limits the ability to make comparisons.

Greater need, greater expense

The Government Accountability Office has concluded multiple times that the data are not sufficient to definitively claim that either type of prison is more cost-effective. One particular challenge in comparing costs is the difference in inmate characteristics across prisons. The state of Arizona found that their minimum-security public and private prisons cost virtually the same amount per prisoner after adjusting for the medical costs incurred by public prisons whose inmates were in poorer health.

By contrast, a separate Temple University study widely cited by private prison companies found savings of approximately 14 percent for Arizona minimum-security private prisons after valuing the depreciation of the older public facilities more heavily and including underfunded pensions for the public correctional officers. However, an internal investigation found that the authors of this paper failed to disclose their funding sources—the three major private prison companies—and the university disassociated itself with the report.

Hidden Consequences: The Impact of Incarceration on Dependent Children

Center for Economic Policy Research, June The study finds that the rate of incarceration in -- per , people -- was percent higher than it was in , and the total increase in population was percent. According to the report, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, a rate that is seven times higher than the average for other rich countries. The study points out that some of the main causes of the rise in incarceration rates are policies such as "mandatory minimums" and "three strikes" laws that often lead to long prison terms for non-violent offenders.

Earlier research on the connection between crime and incarceration suggests that state and local governments could shift non-violent offenders from jail and prison to probation and parole with little or no deterioration in public safety. Over the same period, the U. Burden Foundation, July The release of this brief corresponds with concerns about the U.

New Research and Papers

Key findings include: Some studies found that substandard housing--particularly where exposure to lead hazards is more likely to occur--is associated with higher violent crime rates. Studies have shown that exposure to lead--associated with older, deteriorated, and lower-quality housing--can result in increased delinquency, violence, and crime. For populations who are the most at-risk for criminal justice involvement, supportive or affordable housing has been shown to be a cost effective public investment, lowering corrections and jail expenditures and freeing up funds for other public safety investments.

Additionally, providing affordable or supportive housing to people leaving correctional facilities is an effective means of reducing the chance of future incarceration. States that spent more on housing experienced lower incarceration rates than those states that spent less.


From to the number of people housed in private prisons increased five times faster than the total prison population. This is a highly normative framework reflected in the empirical findings of scholarship on this topic. Promise:To provide as much context as possible so that data can be interpreted responsibly. Given that the majority of prison-building does not occur in towns that already have prisons, one way to control for the potential racial biases of prison-building would be to control for group quarters population. Understanding the impact of prisons may, however, require a more nuanced approach given that Southern rural communities with larger proportions of people of color are most likely to build prisons [ 20 , 36 ]. Still, it has some good information and worth taking a look. Incarceration is associated with overlapping afflictions of substance use, mental illness, and risk for infectious diseases HIV, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases, and others.

Of the 10 states that spent the larger proportion of their total expenditures on housing, all 10 had incarceration rates lower than the national average. Justice Policy Institute. By Lauren-Brooke "L. The Brennan Center.

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December First, we conducted an in-depth examination of the federal and state criminal codes, as well as the convictions and sentences of the nationwide prison population 1. We find that alternatives to incarceration are more effective and just penalties for many lower-level crimes. We also find that prison sentences can safely be shortened for a discrete set of more serious crimes. This paper discusses the incredible potential of the Temporary Release program to save the State millions of dollars while enhancing public safety.

A "platform for true stories about and by ordinary people, both those who are or have been caught up in the criminal justice system, and those who work on its front lines. By David Roodman. Open Philanthropy Project. September By Michael Leachman, Inimai M. Chettiar, and Benjamin Geare. From the Conclusion: "Many states have not implemented rigorous methods for providing legislators the information they need about how criminal justice policy changes can affect their budgets. As a result, legislatures are less likely to enact reforms that might offer cost savings and broader benefits for a state's economic and social health, and they may be more likely to enact costly policies of questionable merit.

With states struggling to restore or sustain funding for schools and other public necessities, they cannot afford to miss opportunities to simultaneously improve public policy and save money. And even when state budgets improve, states should, as a matter of sound policy practice, evaluate carefully the fiscal impact of policies they consider.

Drawing on the best practices described in this report, states can improve their fiscal notes, giving legislators, advocates, the public, and the media more useful information about a bill's fiscal impact. These improvements will help states enact more rational and effective criminal justice policy and invest their limited resources wisely. County-by-County searchable data base. Vera Institute. The web site includes an interactive map. Conclusions: High rates of incarceration can have the unintended consequence of destabilizing communities and contributing to adverse health outcomes.

Am J Public Health. By Bruce Western and Becky Pettit. Daedalus Summer , Vol.


How mass incarceration creates historically disproportionate long-term social inequality among African American men. Center on Sentencing and Corrections. On any given day in the United States there are , people sitting in more than 3, jails. Despite the country growing safer—with violent crime down 49 percent and property crime down 44 percent from their highest points more than 20 years ago—annual admissions to jails nearly doubled between and from six million to Not only are more people ending up in jail today compared to three decades ago, those who get there are spending more time behind bars, with the average length of stay increasing from 14 days to 23 days.