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California's Per-Inmate Cost: More Than Cost of Harvard

It's expected to hit $75,560 in the next year, a record
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 5, 2017 7:07 PM CDT
California's Per-Inmate Cost: More Than Cost of Harvard
FILE - In this file photo taken Friday, April 17, 2015, new cells are under construction at Mule Creek State Prison, in Ione, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget projects that it will cost a record $75,560 to imprison each felon in the next fiscal year.    (Rich Pedroncelli)

(Newser) – The cost of imprisoning each of California's 130,000 inmates is expected to reach a record $75,560 in the next year, enough to cover the annual cost of attending Harvard University and still have plenty left over for pizza and beer. The price for each inmate has doubled since 2005, even as court orders related to overcrowding have reduced the population by about one-quarter. Salaries and benefits for prison guards and medical providers drove much of the increase. The result is a per-inmate cost that is the nation's highest and $2,000 above tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses to attend Harvard, the AP reports.

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Gov. Jerry Brown's spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 includes a record $11.4 billion for the corrections department while also predicting that there will be 11,500 fewer inmates in four years because voters in November approved earlier releases for many inmates. Since 2015, California's per-inmate costs have surged nearly $10,000, or about 13%. New York is a distant second in overall costs at about $69,000. Critics say with fewer inmates, the costs should be falling. But Joan Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, said it was "highly predictable" that per-inmate costs would increase even as the population decreased. "We released all the low-risk, kind of low-need and we kept in the high-risk, high-need," she said. (Read more prison stories.)

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