The dramatic growth of America’s prison population during the past three decades is by now a familiar story. In 2008, the Pew Center on the States reported that incarceration levels had risen to a point where one in 100 American adults was behind bars. A second Pew study the following year added another disturbing dimension to the picture, revealing that one in 31 adults in the United States was either incarcerated or on probation or parole.
The costs associated with this growth also have been well documented. Total state pending on corrections is now about 52 billion, the bulk of which is spent n prisons. State spending on corrections quadrupled during the past two decades, making it the second fastest growing area of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid.
While America’s imprisonment boom and its fiscal impacts have been widely debated, the public safety payoff from our expenditures on incarceration has undergone far less scrutiny. Now, however, as the nation’s slumping economy continues to force states to do more with
less, policy makers are asking tougher questions about corrections outcomes.