NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Prison Budgets Seem Immune to State Cuts

January 21, 2003

Although states are scrounging for every last nickel of revenues, governors are reluctant to cut prison funding because they don't want to appear to be soft on crime, a legacy of the get-tough-on-crime climate of the past 25 years. There are now nearly two million inmates, each costing on average more than $22,000 a year.

  • The proportion of states' general funds spent on correction during the 2002 fiscal year ranged from a high of 18.7 percent for Michigan to a low of 2.9 percent for Minnesota.
  • Part of the high costs of corrections' budgets is due to the prison building boom of recent years -- and only about half the states have cut construction spending over the past year.
  • Minnesota has begun charging prisoners for room and board, while Iowa has cut deserts from twice to once a day -- while a number of states have resorted to releasing nonviolent prisoners early.

Other states are trying to repeal or revise tough sentencing laws like mandatory minimums, so-called truth-in-sentencing laws, three-strikes provisions and cutbacks in parole. The laws, which states began to adopt in the 1970's, resulted in a nearly six-fold increase in prison populations over the last three decades.

Source: John M. Broder, "No Hard Time for Prison Budget," New York Times, January 19, 2003.


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