The United States leads the world in both the total number of incarcerated convicts and the percentage of the national population in prison. Nearly 2.4 million people wake up in a prison each morning, 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. This staggering number only gets more serious when it leads to the financial statistics associated with it.
The average annual cost to incarcerate one inmate is $31,307, but this can vary widely from state to state. In New York, for instance, it costs between $50,000 and $60,000. A shocking total of $63.4 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars goes to the imprisonment of its criminals, but why is the price so high?
Security is the first priority.
Security makes up almost half of the incarceration costs each year and the more inmates in prison, the more guards and security equipment that is needed. The state of California reported that each inmate requires over $19,000 of security protection. While this may seem overpriced, it is important to note that a shift of prison guards must be readily available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Each employee has a salary and benefits that must be figured in as well.
Doctor bills add up.
Another major factor is the price of healthcare for each prisoner. By law reasonable healthcare must be offered to each convict and even though many doctors and other medical personnel volunteer services or offer a reduced rate, the cost of prescription medicine alone can be overwhelming. Close to 25 percent of the annual cost to incarcerate a person is related to their healthcare.
Someone has to pay the bills.
The third significant factor is the cost of maintaining the prison itself. Building repairs and maintenance, utilities, and inmate classification all take a deep chunk out of the annual finances. It takes a lot of power to keep the lights on in the nation’s prisons, especially when the cost of running surveillance equipment, computers, and other electrical equipment are factored in.
Is the cost worth it?
While the cost of incarceration is high, it is important to note that the crime rate in the United States dropped over 25 percent in the past 20 years. Many believe this is due to the harsh sentencing of the 1990s, such as the “three-strikes-you’re-out” laws many states adopted during that time. Either way, it is hard for anyone to look at the annual cost to imprison a single criminal and not ask the question is it worth it?