When a local prosecutor sends a convicted felon to prison, the cost of keeping the person locked up, an average of nearly $32,000 per year, is paid for by the state, not the county where the prosecutor holds office. The problem with this, some argue, is that prosecutors end up enjoying a “correctional free lunch,” says Slate. They can be extremely aggressive in their charging decisions without having to worry about how much it will cost the local taxpayers who elected them.
If prosecutors were forced to take the cost of incarceration into account, the theory goes, there might not be 1.36 millioin people in state prisons. W. David Ball, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law, has a proposal to make counties pay for every inmate they incarcerate. Ball argues that states should take the money they're currently spending on their prisons, distribute it among counties based on their violent crime rate, and allow local decision-makers to spend it as they see fit. If county officials want to use the money to fund crime prevention programs, they can; if they want to use it to put lots of convicted felons in prison, they can do that too.