antimedia | Though the U.S. population accounts for only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, its prisons held 22 percent of the world’s prisoners at the end of October 2013, making America’s incarceration rate the highest in the world.
And while the cost of today’s federal prisons has surpassed the Federal Bureau Of Prisons’ $6.85 billion budget, state prisons are not far behind. With “[s]tate corrections budgets … nearly [quadrupling] in the past two decades,” Vera Institute of Justice notes, each average inmate now costs taxpayers over $31,000 per year. In 2010 alone, states spent over $5.4 billion on maintaining their prisons.
But while we know everything about government’s prison budgets, few reports shed light on the hidden costs of high incarceration rates.
In order to help the U.S. population understand what mass incarceration means to smaller communities, Washington University in St. Louis conducted a study entitled “The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the U.S.,” led by doctoral student and certified public accountant Michael McLaughlin.
According to the study, for “every dollar in corrections spending, there’s another 10 dollars of other types of costs to families, children and communities that nobody sees because it doesn’t end up on a state budget.”
Researchers concluded the “annual economic burden” resulting from the high rate of incarceration in America is an estimated $1.2 trillion, or nearly 6 percent of the GDP. This burden is also eleven times higher than what governments take from taxpayers to support state and federal prisons.