New Research: One Person Incarcerated for Homicide Costs Society $17 Million
In September 2010, researchers from Iowa State University published a study analyzing the incarcerations of convicted people and the resulting costs to society. The study calculated that one person imprisoned for homicide costs society $17.25 million.
The researchers used data from 2003 cases in Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas. To produce the total cost of an inmate, the study evaluated “victim costs, criminal justice system costs, lost productivity estimates…and estimates on the public’s resulting willingness to pay to prevent future violence.”
Our Overflowing Corrections System
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention counted more than 18,000 homicides in the U.S. in 2007, costing society approximately $300 billion. While the U.S. murder rate has significantly decreased in the past few years, it’s still twice that of any other wealthy nation and higher than in countries such as Rwanda, Angola, and Mozambique.
Over the past quarter century, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled. At the end of 2009, there were 1,613,740 people incarcerated in federal or state correctional facilities. The Federal Bureau of Prisons states that half of all prisoners are incarcerated on drug charges, more than for any other type of crime.
Each prisoner will receive thousands of dollars each year they remain incarcerated. Most of the funds go toward security, medical services, parole and facility operations, administrative fees and food.
Alternatives to Incarceration
With so many imprisoned on nonviolent charges, many experts in the corrections system are calling for change. “Our research shows that prisons are housing too many people who can be managed safely and held accountable in the community at far lower cost,” comments Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project.
Gelb’s research group advocates changing sentencing laws and probation programs to lower the prison population and subsequently lower costs. New community supervision techniques include ankle bracelets and check-in stations similar to ATMs.
Though taxpayers may be frustrated by the astounding price-per-prisoner, they may be encouraged to work toward preventing future violence by contributing to security policies, welfare, and youth programs.