From the early 1970s into the new millennium, the number of people incarcerated in the United States—and the cost of incarceration—experienced unprecedented growth. After hitting a high of 2.3 million people in 2008, however, the number of people behind bars is now in decline. Lawmakers in nearly every corner of the country, and from across the political spectrum, have enacted new policies to reduce incarceration and spending on prisons and jails.

Vera’s Price of Prisons and Price of Jails series aims to provide policymakers and the public with comprehensive and comparable data on the taxpayer cost of corrections facilities. Although there are many sources that report spending on corrections institutions, they are often incomplete—because they omit certain costs, such as pensions, that are outside the corrections agency budget—or inaccurate because the cost of the prison, or jail, is commingled with other corrections functions, such as probation or parole.

Project Objectives

  • By providing a standardized and thorough accounting of the cost of our nation’s prisons and jails, this project aims to provide clarity on the taxpayer cost of incarceration.

  • This project aims to provide guidance for policymakers seeking to safely rein in their incarceration costs.