The cost of imprisoning each of California’s 130,000 inmates is expected to reach a record $75,560 in the next year, the Associated Press reports. That’s enough to cover the annual cost of attending Harvard University and still have plenty left over for pizza and beer. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget for the year that starts July 1 includes a record $11.4 billion for the corrections department. It predicts that there will be 11,500 fewer inmates in four years because voters in November approved shorter stays for many inmates.
The price for each inmate has doubled since 2005, even as court orders related to overcrowding have reduced the population by about one-quarter. Salaries and benefits for prison guards and medical providers drove much of the increase. The result is a per-inmate cost that is the nation’s highest — and $2,000 above tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses to attend Harvard. Since 2015, California’s per-inmate costs have surged nearly $10,000, or 13 percent. New York is a distant second in overall costs at about $69,000. Critics say with fewer inmates, the costs should be falling. “Now that we’re incarcerating less, we haven’t ramped the system back down,” said Chris Hoene of the left-leaning California Budget & Policy Center. The corrections department has one employee for every two inmates, compared with one employee for roughly every four inmates in 1994. Joan Petersilia of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center said it was “highly predictable” that per-inmate costs would increase even as the population decreased. “We released all the low-risk, kind of low-need [inmates], and we kept in the high-risk, high-need,” she said.