20 states that spend the most on prisons

As of 2010, the U.S. spent $80 billion on corrections expenditures at the federal, state and local levels, according to The Brookings Institute, the most recent and widely reported figure. Of that amount, $38.8 billion has fallen onto the taxpayers, according to a 2012 Vera Institute of Justice report. However, some states spend more on corrections and expenses than others, due to a variety of factors.

Click through to find out how much prison inmates are costing the 20 top-spending states.

States that spend the most on prisons
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States that spend the most on prisons

20. Arkansas

Expenditures on correction: $597.58 million
Total state and local expenditures: $26.3 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.23%

Part of the funding for Arkansas' prisons goes towards inmate educational classes. In 2018, the Arkansas Department of Correction partnered with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance to offer cooking classes to women at the Wrightsville Hawkins Center, ArkansasOnline reported. "Releasing women with the nutritional education will make a difference in their lives, and can make a huge difference in the lives of Arkansas families and children who benefit from healthier meals," deputy warden Mark Warner told the site.

Check Out: From Elementary to College: Average Cost of Education in Every State

19. Wyoming

Expenditures on correction: $214.03 million
Total state and local expenditures: $9.58 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.24%

Prison spending in Wyoming is already high, but Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead requested an addition $5.2 million as part of a budget revision submitted in January to cover repairs to the Wyoming State Penitentiary, which has long dealt with maintenance issues, the Casper Star Tribune reported. The prison was constructed in 2001 and can house 820 inmates, Correctional News reported.

18. South Dakota

Expenditures on correction: $177.13 million
Total state and local expenditures: $7.46 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.37%

In February 2018, the Judiciary Committee voted against a bill that would have made drug ingestion a misdemeanor, rather than a felony punishable by prison time in South Dakota. The bill would have saved the state an estimated $50 million in prison costs, the Argus Leader reported. Sen. Craig Kennedy told the site that South Dakota will be forced to build a new women's prison for drug addicts if it continues sending drug users to prison.

(Photo by Stephan Gladieu/Getty Images)

17. Texas

Expenditures on correction: $5.75 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $242.37 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.37%

President Trump's hiring freeze for the Bureau of Prisons, put into effect in January 2017, has caused federal prison staff in Big Spring, Texas to be depleted, Vice News reported. Paula Chavez, who teaches GED and parenting courses to inmates at the prison, told the news organization that education classes are taking the biggest hits because of the new cuts.

16. Louisiana

Expenditures on correction: $1.13 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $46.84 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.41%

Louisiana is the world's prison capital, with the state imprisoning more of its people per head than any other U.S. state, The Times-Picayune reported. Most of the inmates are held in for-profit facilities, and the state's prison industry is worth $182 million. According to the report, the state's prison population has doubled in the past two decades, which has cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

15. Florida

Expenditures on correction: $4.07 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $164.78 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.47%

It cost $55.80 a day, or $20,367 per year, to house an inmate in a Florida prison during the 2016-2017 fiscal year, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website. The state's Department of Corrections houses 96,639 inmates in its 148 correctional facilities, with the majority of its inmates serving time for violent crime.

(REUTERS/David Manning)

14. Oregon

Expenditures on correction: $1.13 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $45.58 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.48%

Oregon incarcerates juveniles at a higher rate than almost every other state in the country, according to a report from the Oregon Council on Civil Rights. This practice is costly: it can cost $95,995 per year to imprison a juvenile, the report found. The high rate of imprisoned minors is due to Ballot Measure 11, which passed in 1994 and mandates that all juveniles age 15 and older be tried for certain felonies as adults.

13. Pennsylvania

Expenditures on correction: $3.39 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $134.01 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.53%

In October 2017, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf moved forward with a plan to consolidate the Department of Corrections and the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, which would allow them to share funding and therefore save taxpayer dollars. The merger was expected to save $10 million, a Wolf spokesperson told The Morning Call.

Related: The Best and Worst Ways States Use Your Tax Dollars

(Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

12. Wisconsin

Expenditures on correction: $1.54 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $159.35 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.6%

Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate in Midwest, and spends 12 percent more on prison costs than the national average, Urban Milwaukee reported. Prison spending is one of the state's biggest expenses; the only greater expenses are K through 12 education and health care for low-income residents. Wisconsin imprisons a larger share of its population than its neighboring states of Michigan, Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, which is why its costs are higher. The average annual cost of a prison inmate in the state is about $30,000.

(REUTERS/Allen Fredrickson AF/JDP)

11. Michigan

Expenditures on correction: $2.5 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $93.74 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.66%

Even though Michigan is one of the biggest spenders when it comes to prisons, the state's prison spending has been declining in recent years thanks to a dip in its prison population, The Center for Michigan reported. Between 2006 and 2016, the prison population dropped from a high point of 51,515 to 41,122, according to data from the Michigan Department of Corrections, and by 2007 it had dipped below 40,000 for the first time in decades. Since 2005, the state has closed or merged 26 prison facilities, which has saved $400 million. According to The Center for Michigan, another 1,280-bed prison is expected to close in March 2018, which would save an addition $18.8 million.

10. Montana

Expenditures on correction: $268.1 million
Total state and local expenditures: $9.94 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.7%

In 2017, Montana passed new legislature intended to decrease the prison population, NBC affiliate KTVH reported. The goal of the reform is to cut the rate of criminal offenders who are sent back to prison for violating rules or committing a new crime while on probation or parole. The sentencing reforms are expected to save $70 million in correctional spending over the next six years.

9. Delaware

Expenditures on correction: $302.26 million
Total state and local expenditures: $10.97 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.75%

Delaware is one of the states that spends the most on health services for inmates, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. The foundation's report on prison health care costs and quality found that Delaware spends an average of $8,408 on health care per inmate, as of the 2015 fiscal year — the eighth-highest of all the states.

(REUTERS/Doug Curran)

8. New Mexico

Expenditures on correction: $663.41 million
Total state and local expenditures: $23.92 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.77%

New Mexico's prison expenditures could be on the rise. A September 2017 Associated Press report found that New Mexico's prisons are on track to exceed capacity. In addition to paying for more prisoners, an aging prison population will mean more inmate health care costs as well. "That growth is going to continue to put pressure on the population," Linda Freeman, executive director of the sentencing commission, told lawmakers on the Legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee, the AP reported.

Related: Best and Worst States for Health Insurance Costs

7. Maryland

Expenditures on correction: $1.85 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $65.93 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.8%

In September 2017, Maryland's Board of Public Works approved a budget-cut plan that reduced funding to the state's Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services by $8 million. The cuts would be made by not filling open jobs, The Washington Post reported.

6. Georgia

Expenditures on correction: $2.28 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $81.19 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.81%

To reduce correctional spending without harming public safety, Georgia's Gov. Nathan Deal started pushing for "justice reinvestment," which aims to make changes at the state's administrative and legislative levels in order to reduce spending on corrections. Georgia first focused on drug crimes, and set up specialty drug courts as an alternative to incarceration. "By focusing on this segment of our prison population first, we proved that there was a better way," Governor Deal told The Criminal Report. Deal was able to successfully curb the projected growth trajectory for prisoners in the state. However, the number of people in prison in Georgia was still roughly the same in 2017 as it was in 2009, according to the Report.

(Photo by Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images)

5. Nevada

Expenditures on correction: $676.04 million
Total state and local expenditures: $23.89 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.83%

The state of Nevada spends twice as much per inmate as it does per elementary/secondary school student, data from the U.S. Census and Vera Institute of Justice showed. The cost to house an inmate at an in-state prison is $20,000, according to the Las Vegas Sun. However, Nevada is running out of prison facilities, so might need to move some inmates to private out-of-state prisons, which would cost $32,000 per inmate. In the 2016 fiscal year, Nevada housed an average of 12,890 prison inmates; that number is projected to rise to 14,247 in 2019.

(Photo by Nadja Brandt/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

4. Idaho

Expenditures on correction: $340.06 million
Total state and local expenditures: $11.99 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.84%

Idaho's correction spending increased significantly in 2014, when the state took over the Idaho Correctional Center from Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company, the Idaho Statesman reported. The cost per inmate in the state is $22,182 per year, which is one of the lowest in the West.

3. California

Expenditures on correction: $15.29 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $512.25 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 2.98%

The cost of imprisoning an inmate in California is $75,560, the Associated Press reported — which is more than Harvard tuition. The cost per inmate in the state has doubled since 2005. The increased cost is not due to an increase in prisoners — the inmate population has decreased in recent years due to court orders to reduce overcrowding — but due to rising costs of salaries and benefits for prison guards and medical providers.

(REUTERS/Stephen Lam)

2. Virginia

Expenditures on correction: $2.34 billion
Total state and local expenditures: $77.74 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 3.01%

Virginia houses nearly 30,000 violent and non-violent criminals, and they are costing taxpayers a pretty penny. According to a report by NBC 29, taxpayers are paying close to $850 million for prisoners that are in jail due to the Truth in Sentencing Act, which reduces the possibility of early release from incarceration. Of Virginia's $1 billion corrections budget for 2016, the state received $135,000 funding, with the rest provided by taxpayer dollars, the news channel reported.

1. Arizona

Expenditures on correction: $1.71 billion
Direct expenditure by function: $55.35 billion
Percentage spent on correction: 3.08%

Arizona has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the U.S., and the highest rate in the West, Prescott eNews reported. The state also has some of the strictest drug sentencing laws, which could explain why prison populations are rising even though the number of violent criminals is declining. A bipartisan criminal justice reform group was created in the House in February 2018 to look at modernizing drug laws to reduce the number of people in prison for drug-related crimes.

Up Next: How One Man Went From Prison to a Path of Wealth



Methodology: GOBankingRates sourced information from the U.S. Census Bureau data on state and local government finances. We then added up yearly expenditures for correction, and divided it by overall direct expenditure to find percentage spent. States were ranked by the percentage spent.

Please note photos are for illustrative purposes only.

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