State prison population shrinks, but spending goes up — to $112K per inmate

Posted on June 4, 2021 8:56 am

Sacramento Bee 

It now costs more than $100,000 per year on average to imprison one person in California, according to Finance Department figures.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal projects the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation will spend an average $102,736 on each inmate for the fiscal year that ends June 30. The figure is projected to rise to $112,691 per inmate next fiscal year.

The record-high costs emphasize a counterintuitive trend: prison spending keeps going up even as the inmate population shrinks.

The coronavirus pandemic has exaggerated the trend. California’s prison population has dropped by 26,000 since February 2020, propelled by early releases of low-level offenders. Yet the corrections department will spend about $1.2 billion more in the next fiscal year under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest budget proposal.

The latest budget figures, while affected by emergency pandemic spending, fall in line with years-long trends. California’s per-inmate spending captured headlines when it cleared $75,000 in 2017, prompting comparisons to a year’s tuition at Harvard and Stanford universities.

California’s 35 state-run prisons held about 130,000 inmates then. Now they hold about 97,200. The corrections department’s budget was $11.4 billion then. Now, in Newsom’s proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1, the state would spend $13.5 billion.