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Report Highlights Prison Costs in NC Budget Debate

June 14, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina has closed seven prisons over the past year to meet budget cutback orders, and cutting prison spending further is still on the table for the General Assembly. A new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that North Carolina is not alone in scrutinizing those costs, which are about $26,000 per year, per inmate. The state has about 40,000 people locked up.

Report author Kris Warner says those expenses were compared with the cost of probation and parole, which are between $1300 and $2700 per offender, per year.

"So there's a huge amount of savings that could be gained through taking non-violent offenders out of the prison and jail population."

Rehabilitation and programs to help former prisoners adjust to home and work life again are also important, according to Warner's study, to reduce the chances that they will return to prison. He calls for a different way of thinking about public safety, in view of the fact that the state's prison population is forecast to grow to 50,000 over the next ten years.

"The politically-comfortable 'tough on crime' approach got us to where we are today, and it's causing a lot of strain on state and local governments."

To be sure, closing state prisons means the elimination of jobs that are sorely needed, and some corrections workers who have lost their positions rallied last week in Raleigh. Warner suggests money saved by increasing the use of probation and parole could be used for job creation programs to get those people back into the work force.

The full report, titled "The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration," is at

Deb Courson, Public News Service - NC