Reason Writers Around Town: Cutting California's Prison Costs


Reason Foundation Director of Government Reform Leonard Gilroy and Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, have a column in the Orange County Register and LA Daily News on how much prison costs contribute to the California budget deficit and how private prisons can be part of the solution:

The Legislative Analyst's Office found that correctional officers account for one in seven state employees and eat up a disproportionately large 40 percent of state personnel spending. The overcrowded state prisons house 167,000 inmates in a system designed for 84,000. As a result, federal judges have ordered California to release 40,000 inmates. And a federal receiver has taken over control of California's prison health care services due to a class action lawsuit and the poor quality of medical care in the system.

California is spending more than $8 billion on corrections this year, more than 10 percent of the massive state budget. State taxpayers spend about $133 per inmate—every day. Texas, which has the second largest inmate population after California, spends less than one-third of that amount—about $42.50 per inmate per day. One reason Texas spends so much less than California on prisons is its extensive use of public-private partnerships. Since 1989, Texas' annual data shows its cost savings from private prisons have averaged 15 percent a year. During that time, there was not a single year in which government-run prisons matched or were below the private prison costs.

A new Reason Foundation-Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation study finds that modest expansion of California's current use of public-private partnerships in corrections would save taxpayers nearly $2 billion over the next five years. Additionally, more aggressive use of private prisons and contracting out some operations of existing prison facilities would save another $400million to $1.2 billion each year.