This Interactive Map Shows How Much America's Prisons Cost Taxpayers


The U.S. has the world's highest incarceration rate, and obviously, someone has to pay to put people behind bars.


Using 2010 data from The Vera Institute, a justice policy nonprofit, Texas attorney David Breston and a team of designers created an interactive map showing how much prison costs in 40 states. Ten states' Departments of Corrections didn't participate in the Institute's survey.

In the 40 participating states, researchers found total prison costs ran taxpayers $39 billion - $5.4 billion more than reflected in corrections budgets.

The red dots show the prisons in each for state. The creators excluded transfer, psychiatric, pre-release, facilities, and only included state-run units. Take a look at Texas.


The bottom of the map then shows each state's total taxpayer cost of prisons, which the survey defined as residential facilities holding adult offenders in state custody.

Prison costs include expenses for the operation of state-run prisons, privately run prisons, and any payments made to local jails and to other states for housing state-sentenced inmates.

Taxpayer costs include expenses funded by state and federal revenue for these three prison-related expenses: administrative purposes, such as employee benefits or capital costs; inmate services funded through other agencies, such as education or training programs; and the cost of under-funded pension and retiree healthcare plans.


States with the highest costs don't necessarily spend the most per inmate. For example, California, the state with the most prison costs (near $8 million total), spends about about $47,000 on each inmate. New York, however, spends about $60,000 on each inmate - the most of any state. But the state's total budget only runs about $3.5 million.

Costs outside the correction departments ranged from less than 1% of the total cost of prisons in Arizona to as much as 34% in Connecticut. Because the Institute couldn't account for all costs outside corrections departments, the data includes some conservative estimation.

Click here to play around with the map yourself.