Social Question

MissAnthrope's avatar

What does it say when the cost of housing a prisoner is more than a lot of Americans make in salary a year?

Asked by MissAnthrope (21401 points ) November 13th, 2009

This article states the cost of housing a prisoner in CA:

It costs the state about $49,000 a year to house each prisoner, according to corrections department statistics. Thornton said her department has never put a figure on the cost for “more staff-intensive” death row housing, but a state commission of experts last year estimated that the additional security and legal spending for capital inmates costs taxpayers $138,000 per death row prisoner each year.

Reading that, I was struck by the cost, which is a hefty amount on its own, but then it occurred to me that a lot of people don’t even make that much in a year (2009 Median household income was $50,303). ”The typical American household made less money last year than the typical household made a full decade ago.

All this got my brain spinning. It makes me think about are why workers are paid less than they were ten years ago, and if the cost to house and feed a person is $50k a year, why is the measure of poverty so low, and why aren’t people earning more (or why hasn’t minimum wage caught up)?

Another question is how the incarceration rate increase relates to this, whether it’s a sign of hard economic times (people turning to crime to feed families), or something else.

So, discuss! :)

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43 Answers

SpatzieLover's avatar

This has been the case for a while now. It disgusts me. I’ve wondered since I was a kid why prison reform isn’t at the forefront of peoples minds.

I’ve always wondered why 6 people couldn’t share one cell. It would work in a way like shift work so that only two prisoners would be in a cell at any one time. The rest of the time the prisoners would be working or in the cafeteria or the yard.

I happen to think free medical care, free lawyers, free books, free college are privileges only tax payers should have access to.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

I think the incarceration rate has more to do with legislation than economics. You saw a lot more mandatory sentencing throughout the 90s compared to before, and this has resulted in people sticking around for full sentences. And of course the privatization of prisons hasn’t helped with this. Anyways I think its jacked up how much it costs, but you either pay less and have less secure prisons, or pay more and have the situation you have. As far as the earning of the average american household, that just goes to show what free trade will do to the middle class and what 20 years of republican leadership will do, Oh well.

Grisaille's avatar

Gee, I wonder if legalizing drugs is a good idea.

ragingloli's avatar

That is the price society pays for producing criminals.
The preferrable modus operandi is to lower the crime rate by putting more emphasis on crime prevention, better education, early and cheap treatment of psychological ailments that can very well lead to crime, early warning systems that make people more aware of people who are about to snap so they can be helped before they do.
It also helps to decriminalise victimless “crimes”, such as drug usage, replace prison sentences for minor infractions like shoplifting by community service, etc.

hookecho's avatar

@ragingloli society does not produce all criminals. Some people are born with a lack of empathy for others. These people need to be removed from society so that the rest of us, who work real jobs and dont kill and rape and steal can live safley. Im not talking about victimless crimes like recreational drug use, and I agree that many people would not be criminals if society implimented your sugestions. However, there will always be evil people,and we need to realize that instead of giving every criminal a sob story about circumstance.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@hookecho To further that point @MissAnthrope‘s about incarceration rates, here in the Milwaukee area, some criminals have admitted to “doing the crime” to get free medical care, free meals and free schooling. So, besides lacking empathy, some people lack morals, and are looking for the easy way out.

kevbo's avatar

It says a bunch of assholes got together and figured out that they can make a lot of money by getting the government to privatize the prison system. These same assholes knew that they needed more prisoners to fuel their planned expansion, so they created a drug war to justify criminalizing drugs and the people who use them (meanwhile secretly making money off the back end by controlling the drug trade). Then they sold this idea to mouth-breathing conservatives under the banner of being tough on crime.

In the 132 years between 1852 and 1984, the state of California only built a total of twelve prisons. In the eleven-year period between 1985 and 1996, the state built sixteen more.

mowens's avatar

Speaking as someone who used to work in correctional facilities… we spend too much on them.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I’ve also worked in the field, well just interned in Juvenile Hall. I have family who were Chaplains for quite some time. And other friends/family/myself who work towards helping prisoners re-enter society.

I think that this is a good topic to discuss. It is important to consider how much it would cost to treat these prisoners vs. house them. Treatment and prevention would cost considerably less in the long run especially when you consider recidivism. I also think that the Prison Industrial Complex has something to do with us choosing prison instead of other methods. I mean look at how we handle possession of marijuana, in some states this is a felony.

RedPowerLady's avatar

GA @kevbo

I wrote mine before I saw yours. lol. I like how you worded your comment better, lol.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@hookecho Those criminals consist of a very small percentage of people who are actually in prison. But yes you are correct that they do exist.

@LKidKyle1985 GA

@SpatzieLover I couldn’t disagree more. You know I say that with love since I sincerely enjoy your responses and chatting with you.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@RedPowerLady I am a Socialist in most of my viewpoints. Criminals do not get my vote for freedom. We have way to many people using force to get what they want in my local. They deserve to have their freedoms taken.

tinyfaery's avatar

It tells me that people commit crimes because the option of going to prison is better than trying to live in the world they were born into.

It tells me that too many innocent people and those who commit victimless crimes are being jailed for reason sother than protecting the public.

It tells me that our criminal justice system is in need of an overhaul, especially when it comes to spending.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@SpatzieLover I suppose I look at it this way. One is that many of these ‘criminals’ have not committed violent crimes. And Two is that rehabilitation is much more effective than taking away freedoms. And Three is that most people deserve to be treated like humans at least at a basic level (even though I don’t agree I can understand the argument of taking away tele but not books). So the punishment doesn’t fit in many ways. I’m not saying that people don’t deserve punishment, especially for violent crimes, just that there are much better ways of dealing with crime than supporting the prison industrial complex or treating people as subhuman.

hookecho's avatar

@RedPowerLady That’s the thing, though, some people really are subhuman. and IMO, the most effective way to deal with them is the way the Russians used to deal with serial killers – one shot behind the ear, and they’re no longer a threat to good people.

ragingloli's avatar

@hookecho
Yeah, let’s round up those jews!
Let’s build some camps! That will give jobs to the hard working, superior white master race!

RedPowerLady's avatar

@hookecho Yes there are people who are typically labeled as ‘sociopaths’ who really could care less what they do to others. But that is a very very small percentage of those who commit crimes. I am talking about the larger percentage of people. Even with sociopaths I do not believe in the death sentence but I would not want to let a serial killer into the public.

According to prison statistics only half of inmates are in their for committing violent crimes. Jail statistics are less than half.

RedPowerLady's avatar

So here is an example I thought of to address this issue. Someone breaks another person’s arm out of anger. They spend some time in jail/prison, okay good they are taking their punishment. Obviously it is not worthy of the death penalty or life-long imprisonment. So they will be released at some point. Now if we treat them poorly while in prison/jail the chances they will commit crimes again will increase (not stay the same and not decrease). They learn more skills and develop more anger while in prison/jail. However if we offer them treatment or at least the opportunity for education while in prison/jail we may create a change that will reduce their chances of committing crimes while they are out.

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ragingloli's avatar

@hookecho
Then the more disgusting it is that you feel the need to adopt the nazi’s lingo and what is worse, views on groups of people.
It is especially infuriating for me that thinking that adopting the cold blooded methods of a former dictatorship makes you a better human being, when in fact, it puts you on the same level as the serial killers, even lower when you include the fact that you believe it makes you better than them.
Truly disgusting. And you should be ashamed of yourself.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I can’t seem to find information about how many people in the US prison system are serial killers. I imagine it is quite low. Can anyone find this info?

hookecho's avatar

@ragingloli I look at whats good for society as a whole. Does it do any good for the other 99% of the population to have violent criminals free on the streets? No. Rapists, serial killers, and some murderers (depending on the circumstance) are no better than animals. They are sub human monsters.

ragingloli's avatar

@hookecho
Goebbels would be proud of you.

“I look at whats good for society as a whole.”

That is the same crap the Nazis spouted when they sent the Jews, Jehovah’s witnesses, Communists and other non-desireables to the concentration camps to kill them efficiently like the russians and when they “euthanised” thousands of mentally and physically disabled people.
Because it was “good for society as a whole”.
Brutally slaughtering people, no matter what they did, turns society into a society without sympathy, without empathy and whithout respect for human life.
Advocating that makes you no better than the worst serial killer.

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tinyfaery's avatar

The only people who are sub-human are those that feel they have the right to determine that others are sub-human. Absolutely gross. Everyone has the right to life.

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Harp's avatar

[mod says] Flame off. Back on topic, please.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

This is the cost of incarceration.
If anyone feels their quality of life would be improved by residing in prison, then that should be recognized as an obvious logical fallacy.

tinyfaery's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic Tell that to people who have grown up with nothing. When you have no money, no future and no prosepects, jail can seem like a decent alternative.

RedPowerLady's avatar

I know when I interned in juvenile hall there were kids who came back on purpose. Not only was it a warm place to stay where they got free food but it was safe. For most of them that was the key component. I know in adult facilities safety is not a guarantee by any means. But I can understand how some people feel that three hots and a cot is more beneficial to life on the street.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

I’m with @SpatzieLover on this, it disgusts me that people who prey on society are housed, fed and educated beyond what many of our citizens have means for. This especially irks me in the cases of the people I don’t believe are able to be rehabilitated such as torturers, child molesters, violent rapists and serial killers- those people are taking resources from the rest of us they just as soon destroy.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@hungryhungryhortence They simply are not housed and fed and living beyond means of citizens in the US.

tinyfaery's avatar

Nor are those criminals the majority. The jails are full of drug users, petty criminals, and multiple offenders.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@tinyfaery They might not be the majority, but they cost us the most to house. They need more supervision, private cells blocks, and are usually at facilities that cost twice as much as the “average” jail to run.

tinyfaery's avatar

But if those who don’t belong jail were, well, not there, money would be available to house hardened criminals, and I bet even more would be freed up for things like health care and education.

ragingloli's avatar

“_but they cost us the most to house. _”
Yeah, so? The only other way to keep them off the streets is to kill them, but that would blow you off your high moral horse.
By locking them in jail, you keep them off the streets, and society keeps its moral high ground and all it costs is 50k per criminal per year. Throw in a bit more for rehabilitative measures and you get a certain amount of refurbished valuable members of society. I’d call that a bargain.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, for some prisoners the costs created as a result of their crimes are higher than the costs for housing them. Now I call this a business case. I also call this justice.

RedPowerLady's avatar

Just one more reason to focus on reducing recidivism and to focus on treatment.

majorrich's avatar

Free labor repaving roads when the machinery is idle more than it is running. Gives ‘em trade that is usable, provides a public service and the ones more prone to run get taken out.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it and have been reading your answers with great interest. Obviously, there’s a need to segregate those that don’t play well with others, especially the violent criminals. But I think I also feel like prisoners shouldn’t have it easier than the average law-abiding citizen.

Should prisoners have TV and internet, and should death row prisoners be allowed all the privileges listed in the article? I can see both sides. One, if the prisoners are not occupied/entertained, I imagine that’s asking for trouble in the sense of “idle hands do the devil’s work”. Then again, I’d rather see them occupying themselves with self-improvement and rehabilitation in mind, such as reading books or taking online courses. Of all the “perks” of being a prisoner, the one I take the least issue with is free education because I see that as a means toward being a productive member of society and choosing that kind of path over one of crime.

I don’t feel for a second that life in prison is peachy, but I do know there are some people who intentionally choose that life for a variety of reasons, including free room and board, and that there are some people that have spent so much time behind bars that they fit better in that kind of society than the society at large.

Harp's avatar

The issue isn’t only the cost per prisoner, but also how many people we lock up. 702 out of every 100,000 Americans is behind bars, 4 times the world average. This is largely a result of our “get tough on crime” binge of the past few decades.

Anyone who’s interested in criminal justice should take a look at the judicial and penal system in Finland, where the opposite approach has been tried. Until the 70s, Finland’s system was modeled on Russia’s: large police force, stiff prison sentences, punitive prisons. Crime was high, and their incarceration rate, 200 per 100,000, was far higher than the other Scandinavian countries.

In the early 70s, reform was undertaken that radically reduced sentences, favored alternatives to incarceration, made prisons far less punitive and restrictive, liberalized paroles, and relaxed the juvenile justice system. Now the incarceration rate is 63 per 100,000, ⅓ the former rate. Recidivism is lower than in the “tough on crime” California system.

The Finns are very proud and supportive of their prison system. Crime victims receive a monetary compensation for the crime, so they’re less concerned with seeing the criminal suffer. And the current system costs much less than the old.

Here’s a more detailed look at the Finnish system.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Harp Great Answer!

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