Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return on Longer Prison Terms

Time Served: The High Cost, Low Return on Longer Prison Terms, June 2012
NEW Report from the Pew Center on the States
(Full Report)

Excerpts from the Executive Summary:

“The goal of this Pew report is to go beyond the national numbers and present a state-level portrait of how time served has changed during the past 20 years, how it has impacted prison populations and costs, and how policy makers can adjust it to generate a better public safety return on taxpayer dollars.”
(State Fact Sheets)

“Over the past four decades, criminal justice policy in the United States was guided largely by a central premise: the best way to protect the public was to put more people in prison. A corollary was that offenders should spend longer and longer time behind bars…As the Pew Center on the States has documented, the state prison population spiked more than 700 percent between 1972 and 2011, and in 2008 the combined federal-state-local inmate count reached 2.3 million, or one in 100 adults. Annual state spending on corrections now tops $51 billion and prisons account for the vast majority of the cost, even through offenders on parole and probation dramatically outnumber those behind bars…But criminologists and policy makers increasingly agree that we have reached a ‘tipping point’ with incarceration, where additional imprisonment will have little effect on crime. Research also has identified new offender supervision strategies and technologies that can help break the cycled of recidivism…The analysis in this study shows that longer prison terms have been a key driver of prison population and costs, and the study highlights new opportunities for state leaders to generate greater public safety with fewer taxpayer dollars…” (emphasis added)

“According to Pew’s analysis of state data reported to the federal government, offenders released in 2009 served an average of almost three years in custody, nine months or 36 percent longer than offenders released in 1990. The cost of the extra nine months totals an average of $23,300 per offender. When multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of inmates released each year, the financial impact of longer length of stay is considerable. For offenders released from their original commitment in 2009 alone, the additional time behind bars costs states over $10 billion, with more than half of the cost attributable to nonviolent offenders.”
(Full Report)

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