Texas Prisoners Cost $620 Million More Than They Did in 1990, Thanks to Longer Sentences

Categories: Crime

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Meet the average modern Texas prisoner, released in 2009. He spent 2.8 years behind bars -- 32 percent more time than his average prisoner predecessor released in 1990. If he was busted for a violent crime, he spent 5.3 years locked up, a 44 percent increase from his predecessor in 1990. You've spent a hell of a lot of tax dollars keeping Mr. Average Prisoner in the clink, according to this Pew Center study on prison tems, which didn't phrase it quite that way.

Pew crunched the numbers for Texas: $1,783 (average one-month prison stay) x eight months (average increase from 1990 to 2009) = $14,682/prisoner. If you multiply that by the amount of prisoners released in 2009, you get $620.1 million dollars, the amount taxpayers have spent keeping people in prison longer.

Nationally, the average length of additional time over the course of two decades is nine months, a month longer than that of Texas. Nearly every state increased prison sentence lengths, Pew reports. Florida lead the pack with a 166 percent increase. And Texas' $620.1 million on increased sentences becomes over $10 billion across the country, with more than half of that attributed to non-violent offenders. But if it all sounds excessive, there's a catch.

Getting serious career criminals off the streets: priceless.

"Serious crime has been dwindling for the past two decades, and imprisonment deserves some of the credit," the Pew study reports, "But criminologists and policy makers increasingly agree that we have reached a 'tipping point' with incarceration, where additional imprisonment will have little if any effect on crime."

Here are measures that states have been exploring to curb sentence length without tipping the scales in the direction of higher crime: raising the dollar amount that constitutes certain felony property crimes, revising drug offenses to ensure that the punishment fits the crime, scaling back minimum sentence requirements, increasing opportunities for merit-based sentence reductions, revising eligibility requirements for parole.

Texas criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast makes the interesting point that while Florida's average time served rose by 166 percent, New York's rose by two percent. And crime in New York has taken a nosedive. So, whatever the connection between crime reduction and incarceration time, it's certainly more complex than a 1:1 ratio.

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3 comments
Anon
Anon

it's called google - use it. the cost of incarceration vs death penalty information is well-established, and generally isn't disputed by either side of the argument. many people argue that the death penalty is worth its cost because of the value it serves in deterring crime. the opposing side obviously says that it is neither cost effective nor does it reduce crime so why risk killing an innocent person. as to the costs, yes, I believe they are mostly about the legal expenses involved. but even with the extensive legal protections, the chance of murdering an innocent person is real in our system of justice (and honestly, only a fool would argue that we haven't already done it at some point). what I find interesting about the whole thing is that many "conservatives" who abhor government intrusion on liberty are very pro death penalty. seems to me that if we can't trust the government to ever look out for our best interests, the last thing we will want to do is sanction them killing people. I say this as someone who supports the theory of the death penalty (eye for an eye) but doesn't think in practice it is just.

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