The United States has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world — 670 per 100,000 people, according to The Sentencing Project. We know which states put the most people per capita being bars, but which spend the most money on prisons? If the majority of a state’s budget comes from taxpayer money, then it’s not any great leap to say these are the states that use the most tax money to pay for prisons.
The state at No. 4 surprised us, but the grand totals for the money spent and the number of inmates are truly shocking.
Money spent on prisons: $867.9 million
Number of inmates: 22,461
The state that gave us Paul Ryan starts our list of the states that spend the most on prisons. It has one of the lowest numbers of inmates of on this list, but it still spends close to $868 million on all facets of its prison system.
Next: One set of laws hardly explains this amount of money.
Money spent on prisons: $921.8 million
Number of inmates: 46,145
We know Georgia has some of the harshest marijuana laws in America, but that hardly explains all the inmates or the money spent. Tough laws adopted in the 1990s helped grow the prison system into one of the largest in the country, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Next: The inmate population shrinks, but this state still spends a lot.
Money spent on prisons: $1.01 billion
Number of inmates: 16,347
The number of inmates in Connecticut prisons keeps decreasing, but the state still spends a ton of money. The $1.01 billion spent comes out to more than $62,00 spent on each inmate.
Next: A sheriff who loved putting people in jail was hardly alone.
Money spent on prisons: $1.06 billion
Number of inmates: 42,131
Former Phoenix-area Sheriff Joe Arpaio was tough on crime, but he wasn’t alone in that department. Arizona has one of the larger inmate populations of any state on our list (especially for a state its size), and it spends more than $1 billion to house its felons and pay the guards to watch them.
Next: Millionaire households and tons of tax money spent on prisons.
Money spent on prisons: $1.07 billion
Number of inmates: 24,028
Maryland has plenty of nice areas, and it has tons of millionaires living there, but you’re more likely to be robbed there, too. And if you live in the state, a good portion of your tax money goes to fund the $1 billion-plus prison system.
Next: The money isn’t well-spent.
10. North Carolina
Money spent on prisons: $1.11 billion
Number of inmates: 37,066
North Carolina residents see plenty of tax money go to funding prisons, but the money isn’t well-spent. According to a Carolina Journal report, inmate violence is rampant, and there aren’t enough employees to deal with it.
Next: Staggering facts besides the amount of money.
Money spent on prisons: $1.33 billion
Number of inmates: 50,452
Ohio spends more than $1.33 billion on its 31 prisons which is one of the highest amounts in the country, but National Geographic highlights some other staggering facts, too:
- One of every 25 adult residents in Ohio is a prisoner.
- Thirty-eight percent of released inmates go back to jail within three years.
- The state spends $2 million on toilet paper for its prisons each year.
Next: A state with one big problem besides its prison spending.
8. New Jersey
Money spent on prisons: $1.35 billion
Number of inmates: 21,992
Prison populations keep shrinking in New Jersey, and its nearly 22,000 inmates are one of the lowest figures on our list, but it has one big problem. According to a report from The Sentencing Project, African-American inmates outnumber white inmates by more than 12-to-1. It’s one of just a few states with a ratio of more than 10-to-1.
Next: A state keeping pace with its neighbor.
Money spent on prisons: $1.55 billion
Number of inmates: 43,375
We visited Michigan’s neighbor, Ohio, a minute ago, and it’s keeping pace with the place next door. It operates 32 prisons in 21 counties and spends an additional $200 million of taxpayer money.
Next: Tons of taxes and tons of money spent on prisons.
Money spent on prisons: $1.59 billion
Number of inmates: 47,622
A bevy of taxes gives Illinois residents one of the highest tax burdens in the country, and a ton of that money goes to fund prisons. The Land of Lincoln spends nearly $1.6 billion on the prison system each year.
Next: The state doesn’t pay too much per inmate.
Money spent on prisons: $1.91 billion
Number of inmates: 100,567
It spends close to $2 billion of taxpayer money on prisons each year, which is one of the highest totals in the U.S., but it spends a little over $19,000 per inmate, which is one of the lowest figures in the country.
Next: It’s like prison central.
Money spent on prisons: $2.15 billion
Number of inmates: 50,366
Pennsylvania has nine federal prisons, which is one of the higher totals in the country, but those don’t figure into the numbers above. The state operates 24 prisons (not counting youth centers) on its own at a taxpayer cost of $2.15 billion. We don’t know about you, but we’re a little surprised to find this state spends so much on imprisonment.
Next: The numbers are going in every direction in this state.
Money spent on prisons: $3.28 billion
Number of inmates: 149,159
The Lone Star state has four cities with rising crime rates and spends billions of taxpayer dollars on prisons but at the same time, its inmate population is shrinking. Despite all that money, Texas doesn’t expend too much per inmate. It spends about $22,000 on each person behind bars, which is one of the lower numbers nationally.
Next: This state spends the most per inmate.
2. New York
Money spent on prisons: $3.68 billion
Number of inmates: 53,181
New York is one of the worst states for income taxes and property taxes, and it uses a lot of that taxpayer money on its prisons. The Empire State spends nearly $3.7 billion on the prison system, which comes out to more than $69,000 per inmate, the most in the country.
Next: No. 1 spends almost as much as Nos. 2-4 combined.
Money spent on prisons: $8.59 billion
Number of inmates: 132,992
Here we are, No. 1 on the list and it’s probably not too surprising since California has the largest population of any state in the U.S. However, what is surprising is that the Golden State spends almost as much as Nos. 2-4 on our list combined, and that it has one of the most expensive prison systems in the world.
Next: How Latvia and Boston, Denver, or Seattle figure into this.
The grand totals
We were curious to see how many inmates these 15 states have and how much money they spend on prisons, and we thought you might be, too. These are the grand totals:
- Money spent: $31,469,700,000
- Number of inmates: 837,884
To put those numbers another way, the money spent alone would be a top-100 GDP in the world just ahead of Latvia, according to the World Bank. The number of inmates is larger than the populations of Boston, Denver, or Seattle.
All money and inmate figures courtesy of Vera.
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