Vera’s Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit and Center on Sentencing and Corrections, in collaboration with the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States, have developed a methodology to guide a complete accounting of the cost of prisons.

An accurate accounting of the cost of incarceration goes far beyond the commonly cited corrections budgets. At a time of increased scrutiny of government spending and the prevalence of incarceration, it is critical to have a tool to guide a thorough cost analysis.

This comprehensive methodology has been developed with guidance from an advisory panel of experts: John Cape, former New York State budget director and managing director of the PFM Group, David Eichenthal, senior managing consultant at the PFM Group and senior resident fellow at the NYU School of Law's Center for Research in Crime and Justice; Dick Hickman, deputy staff director for the Senate Finance Committee in the commonwealth of Virginia; and Jun Peng, associate professor in public administration at the University of Arizona.

In the summer of 2011, Vera surveyed state corrections departments to collect data necessary to account for the true cost of prisons in their state. The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers describes the taxpayer cost of incarcerating a sentenced adult offender to state prison in 40 states, presents the methodology, and concludes with recommendations about steps policy makers can take to safely rein in these costs.

Why This Work Matters

Commonly cited corrections costs are inconsistent in their treatment of employee benefits and capital expenses for prison construction and maintenance. Moreover, a wide range of expenses for inmates—such as hospital care and legal claims—is often provided outside a state’s corrections department and therefore omitted from cost analyses. A standardized and thorough accounting of costs will provide clarity on the total cost of prisons.

For more information, contact Christian Henrichson.


The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers
Staff from Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit developed a methodology to calculate the taxpayer cost of prisons, including costs outside states’ corrections budgets. Among the 40 states that participated in a survey, the cost of prisons was $39 billion in...

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Research Director, Center on Sentencing and Corrections