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is prison free

21 Jun 2023, Prisons, by

In this article, we explore the question of whether or not prison is truly free.

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When we hear the phrase “prison free,” it often begs the question: does it mean free of cost? Unfortunately, the reality is far from it. In fact, the cost of incarceration is not only steep for the individuals in prison but also for society as a whole. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of the cost of incarceration and who pays for it, the negative impact it has on families and communities, and alternatives to imprisonment that can save money in the long run.

Understanding the Cost of Incarceration

Firstly, let’s take a look at what goes into the cost of incarceration. On average, it costs $31,286 per year to incarcerate one person in the United States. This includes expenses such as food, medical care, housing, clothing, and utilities. It’s worth noting that this is just the baseline cost and doesn’t take into account additional fees that inmates are often forced to pay.

Additionally, the cost of incarceration extends beyond just the financial burden on taxpayers. Studies have shown that incarceration can have long-lasting negative effects on individuals and their families, including decreased job opportunities, increased likelihood of reoffending, and strained relationships. It’s important to consider these factors when evaluating the true cost of incarceration and exploring alternative solutions to address crime and punishment.

The Hidden Fees of Being in Prison

When someone is incarcerated, they may not be aware of the unexpected fees they will be charged. These can include charges for phone calls, email, and even toilet paper. In some states, inmates are also required to pay for their own transportation to court hearings, which can be incredibly expensive. These fees are often unaffordable for those who are already struggling financially and can lead to their release being delayed.

In addition to these fees, there are also charges for medical care while in prison. Inmates are often required to pay for their own medications and treatments, which can be prohibitively expensive. This can lead to inmates not receiving the care they need, which can have serious consequences for their health and well-being.

Furthermore, many prisons charge fees for basic necessities such as food and clothing. In some cases, inmates are required to purchase these items from the prison commissary at inflated prices. This can make it difficult for inmates to afford even the most basic necessities, and can lead to them going without or relying on the generosity of others.

How Much Does it Cost to Keep Someone in Prison?

The cost of keeping someone in prison varies by state, and it’s often much higher than the $31,286 baseline cost mentioned earlier. For example, in New York, it costs an average of $69,355 per year to keep someone in prison. In California, it’s even higher, at an average cost of $81,000 per year. These costs quickly add up, especially when you consider that more than 2.3 million people are currently incarcerated in the US.

There are several factors that contribute to the high cost of keeping someone in prison. One of the biggest expenses is healthcare. Many prisoners have chronic health conditions that require ongoing medical treatment, and the cost of providing this care can be significant. Additionally, the cost of providing food, clothing, and other basic necessities to prisoners can also add up over time.

Some experts argue that the high cost of keeping people in prison is not sustainable in the long term. They suggest that alternative forms of punishment, such as community service or electronic monitoring, could be more cost-effective and still serve the purpose of keeping communities safe. However, others argue that these alternatives may not be as effective at deterring crime or rehabilitating offenders as incarceration.

Who Pays for Inmate Expenses?

So, who is paying for all of these expenses? The short answer is that taxpayers foot the bill. The vast majority of prison funding comes from state and federal budgets. This means that every taxpayer is indirectly paying for the cost of incarceration, regardless of whether they support it or not. This also means that when the number of prisoners increases, so does the financial burden on taxpayers.

However, there are some instances where inmates themselves are responsible for paying for certain expenses. For example, if an inmate wants to purchase additional items from the commissary, such as snacks or personal hygiene products, they must use their own funds to do so. Additionally, some states require inmates to pay for their own medical expenses, although this is not the case in all states. Despite these exceptions, the majority of the financial burden still falls on taxpayers.

The Economics of Incarceration

The cost of incarceration has a much broader impact on the economy as well. When a large portion of state and federal budgets is allocated to the prison system, it takes away funds from other areas that could benefit society, such as education and healthcare. Additionally, the “tough on crime” approach has led to an increase in the number of incarcerated individuals, which can lead to a decrease in the potential workforce.

Furthermore, the economic impact of incarceration extends beyond just the government budget. Families of incarcerated individuals often face financial strain due to loss of income and increased expenses, such as travel costs for visitation. This can lead to a ripple effect in the community, as these families may have less money to spend on goods and services, ultimately affecting local businesses. Additionally, the stigma of having a criminal record can make it difficult for individuals to find employment and contribute to the economy, even after they have served their time.

A Closer Look at Prison Funding

Now that we understand how much it costs to keep someone in prison and who pays for it, let’s take a closer look at prison funding. The majority of federal funding for the prison system goes toward the construction and maintenance of prisons and detention facilities. In fact, the budget for the Federal Bureau of Prisons has increased by 171% since 1987.

However, some argue that this focus on construction and maintenance takes away from funding for rehabilitation and education programs within prisons. These programs have been shown to reduce recidivism rates and ultimately save money in the long run by reducing the number of individuals who return to prison.

Additionally, state funding for prisons varies greatly across the country. Some states spend significantly more on their prison systems than others, with some even spending more on prisons than on education. This has led to criticism and calls for reform in how states allocate their budgets.

The Financial Burden on Taxpayers

The financial burden on taxpayers can’t be overstated when it comes to the cost of incarceration. In 2016, state and federal governments spent a combined total of $57.7 billion on correctional systems. This is a staggering amount, and it’s worth noting that this cost isn’t just limited to the time someone is in prison. It also includes the cost of re-entry programs, probation, and parole.

Furthermore, the cost of incarceration has a ripple effect on the economy. When taxpayers’ money is spent on prisons, it’s not being invested in education, healthcare, or infrastructure. This can lead to a decrease in economic growth and job opportunities. Additionally, the families of those who are incarcerated often suffer financially, as they may lose a source of income or have to pay for expensive phone calls and visits to their loved ones in prison.

Exploring the Relationship Between Poverty and Incarceration

It’s no secret that those who are already struggling financially are more likely to be incarcerated. In fact, there’s a direct correlation between poverty and imprisonment. Those who live in poverty are more likely to be involved in crime, have less access to good legal representation, and are more likely to receive a harsher sentence. All of these factors contribute to a higher number of incarcerated individuals and an increased financial burden on taxpayers.

Furthermore, poverty can also lead to a cycle of incarceration. When individuals are released from prison, they often struggle to find employment due to their criminal record and lack of education or job skills. This can lead them back into poverty and potentially back into criminal activity, resulting in a higher likelihood of being incarcerated again.

Addressing poverty and its root causes, such as lack of access to education and job opportunities, can help break this cycle and reduce the number of individuals who are incarcerated. Additionally, providing resources and support for those who have been released from prison can help them successfully reintegrate into society and avoid returning to criminal activity.

Alternatives to Incarceration: A Cost-Effective Solution

There are cost-effective alternatives to incarceration that can save money in the long run. For example, community-based programs that offer treatment for addiction and mental illness have shown to be effective at reducing recidivism rates. Additionally, there are programs that provide job training and education to help individuals re-enter society successfully. These programs not only save money but also benefit society as a whole.

Moreover, alternatives to incarceration can also address the root causes of criminal behavior. For instance, restorative justice programs focus on repairing harm caused by the crime and promoting healing for both the victim and the offender. These programs have been successful in reducing recidivism rates and promoting a sense of accountability and responsibility among offenders. By addressing the underlying issues that lead to criminal behavior, alternatives to incarceration can create a safer and more just society for everyone.

Breaking Down the Costs of Pretrial Detention

Pretrial detention, or the practice of holding someone in jail before their trial, also comes with a steep cost. In 2017, pretrial detention cost taxpayers $13.6 billion. Lengthy pretrial detention can lead to individuals losing their jobs, which can perpetuate the cycle of poverty and incarceration. Alternatives, such as electronic monitoring or supervised release, are cost-effective solutions that can ease the financial burden on taxpayers.

Furthermore, pretrial detention can also have negative effects on an individual’s mental health. Being held in jail before a trial can cause anxiety, depression, and trauma. This can lead to long-term mental health issues that require costly treatment and care.

In addition, pretrial detention can also lead to wrongful convictions. When individuals are held in jail before their trial, they may feel pressured to accept a plea deal, even if they are innocent. This can result in wrongful convictions and further strain on the criminal justice system.

The Impact of Incarceration on Families and Communities

It’s important to consider the impact that incarceration has on families and communities. When a loved one is incarcerated, it can lead to a loss of income and increased financial stress. It can also negatively affect mental health and lead to social isolation. Additionally, the incarceration of a large number of individuals in a community can lead to economic instability and a decrease in property values.

Furthermore, the impact of incarceration on children of incarcerated parents is often overlooked. Children may experience emotional trauma, behavioral problems, and academic difficulties due to the absence of a parent. They may also face stigma and discrimination from their peers and society. The effects of parental incarceration can last well into adulthood and can perpetuate the cycle of poverty and incarceration.

In addition, the criminal justice system disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income communities. This can lead to a lack of trust in law enforcement and the justice system, as well as a sense of injustice and inequality. It’s important to address the root causes of crime and invest in community-based solutions that prioritize prevention, rehabilitation, and support for families affected by incarceration.

How Incarceration Affects the Economy

We’ve already discussed how the cost of incarceration can take funds away from other areas that could benefit society. It’s also worth considering how the cycle of incarceration affects the economy as a whole. When individuals are released from prison, they often struggle to find employment and may have difficulty finding stable housing. This can lead to a decrease in economic productivity and an increased financial burden on society.

Furthermore, the impact of incarceration on families can also have economic consequences. When a parent is incarcerated, their children may experience financial hardship and may require additional support from social services. This can lead to increased costs for the government and taxpayers.

Additionally, the criminal justice system itself can have economic implications. The high number of individuals incarcerated in the United States has led to the growth of the private prison industry, which generates profits by incarcerating individuals. This has raised concerns about the potential for conflicts of interest and the prioritization of profit over rehabilitation and reducing recidivism rates.

Debunking Myths About Free Prison Services

Finally, let’s debunk the myth that prison services are “free.” Some believe that inmates receive free housing, food, and medical care. However, as we’ve discussed, these services come at a steep price. Additionally, inmates are often required to work for low wages, which further perpetuates the cycle of poverty and exploitation.

It’s also important to note that many families of inmates are burdened with the cost of supporting their loved ones while they are incarcerated. This includes expenses such as phone calls, visits, and sending money for commissary items. These costs can add up quickly and can be a significant financial strain on families who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Can We Afford to Keep Imprisoning People?

In conclusion, the cost of incarceration is immense, and it negatively impacts individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole. It’s time to reconsider our approach to criminal justice and focus on cost-effective alternatives that benefit everyone involved. It’s clear that we can no longer afford to keep imprisoning people at the current rate. The cost is simply too high.