Economics of Incarceration The economic drivers and consequences of mass incarceration

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Prison Policy Initiative on 01/26/2023

Below, we’ve curated virtually all of the research about the various economic factors of incarceration.

How much does the criminal justice system cost, and who pays for it? How well-funded are prisons and jails? What are the economic impacts and origins of mass incarceration? Do certain programs in prison affect people’s economic well-being after release? See the reports below to explore these questions and more. You can also see related research on our Poverty and Debt page.

Key Statistics:

  • Total U.S. government expenses on public prisons and jails: $80.7 billion
  • On private prisons and jails: $3.9 billion
  • Growth in justice system expenditures, 1982-2012 (adjusted for inflation): 310%
  • Number of companies that profit from mass incarceration: ~4,000
  • Annual cost to families of prison phone calls and commissary purchases: $2.9 billion
  • Percent of formerly incarcerated people who are unemployed: 27%
  • Average daily wage of incarcerated workers: $0.86
  • Average earnings someone loses over their lifetime by being incarcerated: $500,000

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