A new study examining the economic toll of mass incarceration in the United States concludes that the full cost exceeds $1 trillion ― with about half of that burden falling on the families, children and communities of people who have been locked up.
The United States is the biggest jailer on the planet, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population but nearly 25 percent of its prisoners. Another 7 million Americans are either on probation or on parole. Operating all those federal and state prisons, plus running local jails, is generally said to cost the U.S. government about $80 billion a year.
But in a first-of-its-kind study, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that the $80 billion price tag is likely a gross underestimation, because it does not factor in the social costs of incarceration.
“We find that for every dollar in corrections costs, incarceration generates an additional $10 in social costs,” Carrie Pettus-Davis, director of the university’s Concordance Institute for Advancing Social Justice and a co-author of the study, said last week.