The LA Times has newly reported that the annual cost of housing a California inmate now exceeds the cost of attending a year at Harvard, which currently sits at $63,025 for tuition, room, and board. It is even more expensive than attending a year at Harvey Mudd college, which has the most expensive annual tuition of any US college or university at $69,717.

In the the next year, the cost of keeping each of 130,000 inmates will reach a record $75,560. Governor Jerry Brown's spending plan for the fiscal year, beginning July 1 grants an unprecedented $11.4 billion to the corrections department. He also predicts "11,500 fewer inmates in four years because voters in November approved earlier releases for many inmates,"  although the cost of housing an inmate has doubled since 2005.

Even with the populations reduced about one quarter due to court orders, other financial expenditures contribute to the climb in spending. The Times states:

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 about 13%. New York is a distant second in overall costs at about $69,000.

On the topic of disproportionate spending increases in comparison to inmate decreases, state Senator Jim Nielsen and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, Joan Petersilia shared their thoughts. The senator is worried there will be an increase in crime, due to changes the state recently made in charging drug and property offenses, leading to an influx of more expensive inmates.

He claims "reformers falsely promised a 'prison dividend' from savings related to the changes." Petersilia said, "We released all the low-risk, kind of low-need, and we kept in the high-risk, high-need". She believes the increase was highly predictable.

 

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