At work today, I got a copy of an interesting letter from the Deputy Assistant Director of the Administrative Office of the US Courts. The AO is, basically, the office that keeps the courts, probation offices, and public defenders running in the federal system. The subject of this particular letter was the "Cost of Incarceration and Supervision." As you suspect, it ain't cheap.
Annually, it costs:
- $24,922 to keep someone in prison
- $23,506 to keep someone in jail pending trial
- $22,871 to keep someone in a "community correction center" (i.e., a halfway house)
- $3621 to be supervised by a probation officer
- $2133 to be supervised by a pretrial services officer
Of course, it's worth $25,000 a year to keep Terry Nichols or some sex predator in the pen every year. But what about your garden variety drug dealer, who was probably selling to support his own habit? Wouldn't that $25k - or even half that - be more effectively spent elsewhere?
Regardless, at least Stephen Colbert has though this issue through and come up with his usual insightful solution: