NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cities, Not States, To Foot Incarceration Costs

May 29, 2015

When demonstrators took over some of the streets of Baltimore Tuesday morning, blocking traffic on roads leading into downtown, they were protesting a proposal to build a new jail for teenagers in the city. On May 13, Maryland's Board of Public Works approved plans to build a 60-bed, pre-trial detention center for teenagers charged with serious crimes so they would not have to share jail space with adults. The cost for construction alone will be nearly $30 million.

Funding for the new jail will come from the state budget. Mental-health services, continuing-education classes, vocational training, jail staff salaries and pensions still need to be covered, and the state does not always pick up those tabs. According to a new report released by the Vera Institute of Justice, "The Price of Jails: Measuring the Taxpayer Cost of Local Incarceration," cities and counties often end up incurring some of those costs.

Jails have become "one of the most significant public safety expenditures a community makes every year," reads the report, with facilities across the nation currently holding 730,000 people ― more than three times what they held in 1983.

The larger the jail, the more ancillary or marginal costs to foot. King County, Washington, ends up eating about 21.5 percent of costs for its Seattle jails that fall outside of the jail budget, while New York City absorbs more than 53 percent of those costs for its jails. How can cities minimize these costs? By reducing the inmate influx.

Tuesday, the MacArthur Foundation announced that it will award $150,000 grants to 20 cities that are creating plans to reduce their local jail populations. New York City, New Orleans and St. Louis County are among the recipients. 

Brentin Mock, "What Incarceration Costs Cities," CityLab, May 27, 2015. 

 

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