What is the Average Cost to House Inmates in Prison


The United States is known for many things, and that includes the highest rate of incarceration of its citizens in the world. No other country in the world pays as much to put people in prison as the United States, and those numbers can vary depending on who you ask. For the purposes of this discussion, we will utilize reputable sources such as the U.S Bureau of Prisons.

On Average

If the costs of running the court system are taken into account, then it costs an average of $40,000.00 per year to house inmates in the United States, but those costs are rising. To get an idea as to how fast prison costs are going up, the state of California has seen its costs per inmate go from $47,102.00 per year in 2009 to over $95,000.00 per year in 2017.

The Financial Burden

The federal prison budget for 2018 is estimated to be $7.1 billion. To put this in perspective, there has been a significant push to increase federal spending on construction in the United States, but the 2018 federal construction budget was only $113 million. This number represents a nearly 80 percent drop in the federal budget number for construction from 2017.

The Most Expensive Prisons

The most expensive prisons on the United States mainland are the Supermax prison in Colorado where the most dangerous criminals in the country are kept. The average cost per inmate per year for the Supermax is $60,000.00.

As impressive as the costs are for the Supermax prison in Colorado, they pale in comparison to the costs for imprisoning inmates at the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba. On average, it costs the American taxpayers an average of $900,000.00 per year per inmate to operate the Guantanamo Bay facility.

How State Budgets Are Affected

The costs for maintaining prisons affect state budgets in wildly different ways. In 2015, the state of North Dakota had a prison budget of $65 million for the year. By contrast, during that same period the state of California had a state prison budget of $8 billion. California’s prison budget was approximately 20 percent of the entire $43 billion spent on prisons by all 50 states in 2015.

The costs associated with housing inmates in American prisons currently make up about three percent of the federal budget, and those numbers are rising. But when the only other option is to allow criminals to wander the streets, it makes spending money on prisons seem like a good investment.