The United States’ prison system is in need of an overhaul. We’ve all heard the reports of inhumane living conditions, mistreatment by officers, and a lack of comprehensive rehabilitation programs.
One of the most overlooked factors is the inordinate cost to the taxpayer—found to be roughly $33,000 for each inmate in North Carolina. As of June 2020, New York reported the highest yearly cost per inmate at $65,355; Alabama had the lowest rate at a cost of $14,780 per inmate.
Currently, more than 2.2 million inmates are housed in the nation’s prisons and jails. Here’s a snapshot of the annual cost to run the federal maximum-security prison system in this country:
Healthcare for retired corrections’ employees—$1.9 billion
State contributions to retiree healthcare—$837 million
Employee benefits—$613 million
State contributions to correctional officer pensions plans—$598 million
Capital costs—$485 million
Healthcare for prison population—$335 million
Studies have found rehabilitation to be a more cost effective and a more humanitarian option over incarceration. Take nonviolent drug offenders, for example. These offenders are frequently arrested repeatedly for infractions caused by untreated addictions or mental health disorders. Data from the American Public Health Association reveals that only 11 percent of all inmates receive addiction treatment. The majority are expected to make recovery without treatment.
Treatment for addiction will provide improved long-term health and a reduction in drug use, resulting in an overall reduced cost for healthcare. Court fees and law enforcement costs will decrease with lower incarceration for non-violent drug related crimes, especially those stemming from addiction.
Jail time for people suffering from addiction is often counterproductive. Scientists and doctors are defining addiction as a disease, which has started to change the way addiction is treated. Incarceration only punishes nonviolent drug offenders, it does not address the root cause of the issue or provide proper treatment for addiction. As long as the person in question is not being charged with some sort of trafficking charge—of which 80 percent of all drug related cases are not – rehab should be a primary option for those suffering from addiction.
Advocating for rehabilitation instead of incarceration for drug-related crimes will take pressure off the prison system, reduce the amount of taxes going to keeping people in prison, and give us a safer society overall.
Braysion Wright is a writer in the North Carolina Community Action Association’s Communications Fellows Program. NCCAA Communications Fellows are students or recent graduates pursuing a career in communications, graphic design, IT, public policy or a related field. They receive a stipend for their participation in the program. For more information on the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program, please contact Yvette Ruffin, director of the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program.