by Joseph Coletti
Senior Fellow, Fiscal Studies, John Locke Foundation
North Carolina spends $30,000 to keep a person in prison for a year. This is 50 percent more than Georgia spends, according to the Vera Institute. This gap means Georgia could hold 46,145 prisoners in 2015 at a cost of $922 million while North Carolina spend $1.1 billion to hold 37,066 prisoners.
A first pass at the data suggests a significant factor may be the number and size of facilities each state operates. The cost to house an additional prisoner is less than $5,000, so most of the average cost is in relatively fixed costs. North Carolina has 56 prisons across the state, 21 of which can hold no more than 500 people, compared to Georgia’s 33 prisons, including two medical facilities, a training center, and a diagnostic and classification prison that serves as the entry point for those new to the prison system.
The justice reinvestment initiative has helped reduce prison populations and is seen as a model for others. Problems within the prison system are severe, but resources are limited. It is worth looking near and far for ways to save costs and achieve better outcomes.