Bloomberg Anywhere Remote Login Bloomberg Terminal Demo Request


Connecting decision makers to a dynamic network of information, people and ideas, Bloomberg quickly and accurately delivers business and financial information, news and insight around the world.


Financial Products

Enterprise Products


Customer Support

  • Americas

    +1 212 318 2000

  • Europe, Middle East, & Africa

    +44 20 7330 7500

  • Asia Pacific

    +65 6212 1000


Industry Products

Media Services

Follow Us

Bloomberg Customers

Businessweek Archives

...But There's No Mistake About Exploding Jail Costs

Economic Trends


The crime crisis may be somewhat exaggerated but not the crisis in spending on prisons and jails. According to economist Steven Gold of the Center for the Study of the States at the State University of New York in Albany, state and local expenditures on correctional systems exploded by 229%, to $21.2 billion, from 1980 to 1989. By one estimate, each addition to the inmate population, which rose by 80,000 in fiscal 1990 alone, costs the states some $25,000 a year.

Behind this spending surge lies a new get-tough attitude on the part of state legislators aimed at greater certainty of incarceration and longer sentences. Some 35% of all felony convictions in California now lead to prison terms, for example, compared with 15% in 1975.

Has getting tough reduced the incidence of violent crime? The evidence is mixed, though criminals are obviously deterred from misbehaving while doing time. What is clear, however, is that the trend toward greater incarceration is running into a fiscal stone wall. Convictions, many based on drug-related offenses, are rising faster than prison cells, and some 40 states are now under court orders to correct overcrowding and inadequate conditions.

One promising development is the willingness of many hard-pressed states to examine alternatives to traditional incarceration for nonviolent criminals. These include pretrial release, fines, halfway houses, job training, community service, drug treatment, and work release. Since the majority of U. S. prisoners are not violent offenders, such reforms could well reduce costs without endangering the public, and advocates say they could reduce the incidence of crime as well.Gene Koretz

blog comments powered by Disqus