2008 June 11 Wednesday
Over 2 Million In US Jails And Prisons

Bad Boys, Bad Boys, whatcha gonna do.

The number of people under supervision in the nation's criminal justice system rose to 7.2 million in 2006, the highest ever, costing states tens of billions of dollars to house and monitor offenders as they go in and out of jails and prisons.

According to a recently released report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 2 million offenders were either in jail or prison in 2006, the most recent year studied in an annual survey. Another 4.2 million were on probation, and nearly 800,000 were on parole.

The cost to taxpayers, about $45 billion, is causing states such as California to reconsider harsh criminal penalties. In an attempt to relieve overcrowding, California is now exporting some of its 170,000 inmates to privately run corrections facilities as far away as Tennessee.

$45 billion isn't very much in the bigger scheme of government spending. The US federal government alone will have a $3 trillion budget in fiscal year 2009. We are burning thru money in Iraq at over 3 times the rate we spend on prisons. The entire war in Iraq could easily cost $3 trillion.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2008 June 11 11:28 PM  Economics Crime

HellKaiserRyo said at June 12, 2008 12:14 AM:

Low IQ people cannot function in a "libertarian" society or a society that emphasizes private property so they have to use the abjured method of physical force to survive. (One reason why I believe libertarianism is incompatible with human nature.) At least in Sweden they are placated by redistibutive transfers and Sweden already has a high national IQ.

I wonder how many of those prisoners would not be in our prisons if stricter immigration policies were enacted.

Audacious Epigone said at June 12, 2008 4:16 AM:

I'd say that's the government's best-spent $45 billion.

anonymous said at June 12, 2008 4:45 AM:

We have quite a few individuals in the US who are always using the abjured method of physical force. They are called blacks. And money well spent indeed!

Gannon said at June 12, 2008 7:44 AM:

A lot of these people shouldn't be in jail. Drugtraffickers and statutory rapists should be freed, drug consumption should be legal under the supervision of the state like in Holland and Age of consent should be lowered to puberty like it is in Europe, at around 14.

JSBolton said at June 12, 2008 2:13 PM:

It's around $22,000/ year by those numbers, or a bit higher if most do not spend the full year. You can't set up make-work jobs out in the wilderness for that little. The total is ~$150 per person here; 300 million X 150= 45 billion. We can afford longer sentences, and high-cost locales can ship them out, like they said California does. Keep them in long enough, and far enough away from the monster females that would want to have their babies, and lasting improvement will be obtained.

Randall Parker said at June 12, 2008 6:50 PM:

John Bolton,

We could lower prison costs a few ways:

1) Design the prisons to use less labor.

2) Make the prisoners work more. The incentives and disincentives they are presented with should have them working 50+ hours per week and at jobs that create substantial value.

3) Put the prisons in lower labor cost areas.

4) Put some types of criminals on otherwise deserted islands where no prison is needed. For example, put pedophiles on islands. They aren't dangerous as long as no kids are around.

Rob said at June 13, 2008 1:55 PM:


On point 2: How many people were capable of working at jobs that created substantial value when they were not in prison? It may be that prison is a better environment for that sort of person. Robert Lindsay pointed out that black in prison in prison have lower death rates than black men who aren't in prison. Which makes one wonder if some sort of prison-lite, like Murray's custodial democracy, isn't the best way to handle the underclass. Monitor them, reduce unscripted interaction with them as much as possible, keep them away from weaponns, but ensure that they eat every day, don't do hard drugs, have a reasonable number of children(1 seems a good limit for people who are in essence wards of the state) who they don't abuse or neglect. Possibly we could turn the underclass in contributing members of society. As the underclass gets larger, we have to do something with them.

Randall Parker said at June 13, 2008 8:45 PM:


Some prisoners are so violent and deranged that they can do very little that is of use. Some are too dumb to do much. But others can be made more productive.

I think the key is incentives. I've read of ridiculously low hourly rates paid to prisoners. They ought to be able to make more money. Granted, the state pays a lot to keep them in prison. Okay, make they pay part of their income to state costs until they are paying their cost of incarceration. Beyond that let them keep more.

Prisoners would be less likely to commit crimes when released if they could save while in prison. Of course some of those who are never going to be released would have a lot less incentive to save. But some would earn money for family on the outside. Others could be offered the ability to earn enough money to rent a nicer cell.

Kenelm Digby said at June 14, 2008 4:51 AM:

The dilemma is if that prisoners can actually save significant sums of money whilst in jail from their hard-work, people will rightfully say that they have PROFITED from their crimes.
For this reason prisoners are usually given trivial amounts of 'pocket-money' for their efforts.

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Web parapundit.com
Go Read More Posts On ParaPundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright