In California, it costs as much as $60,000 per year to incarcerate someone and pay for prison workers, security, healthcare and a host of other expenses, according to Charis Kubrin, professor of criminology, law and society.
That means any major increase in the prison population is not only a matter of justice, but of government budgets -- and taxpayer pocketbooks. And just such an increase in the prison population looks imminent because of a recent drug sentencing policy issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"The concern, though, is that there's a net widening going on with these sorts of policies, whereby it's not just those high-level offenders that get caught up with the mandatory minimums, it's a lot of low-level offenders," Kubrin tells NPR's Marketplace. "And that's when you start to see diminishing returns, both in terms of crimes prevented, as well as the cost-effectiveness."
One solution? Rather than spend so much money incarcerating people, fund "front-end" programs, such as drug rehab centers, treatment clinics and poverty reduction programs.