Nationwide, state correctional health care spending totaled $7.7 billion in 2011—an amount that comprises 20 percent of overall prison expenditures, according to a new report from the State Health Care Spending Project, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Inmate health care costs make up a larger share of state prison budgets than in 2001, but these expenses have leveled off since 2009, a trend that aligns with the recent nationwide deceleration of health care spending.
Note: In April 2014 we published the white paper Using Cost-Benefit Analysis for Justice Policymaking. It is intended for a diverse audience, including elected officials and their staff; policymakers; people who work in adult or juvenile justice systems; service providers; and journalists.
If you work on policy, are new to the Cost-Benefit Knowledge Bank for Criminal Justice (CBKB) website, and wonder where you should start, we suggest the following materials:
- Types of Economic Analysis tool: This describes the four most common types of analysis, including cost-benefit analysis (CBA), and describes the circumstances that call for the use of each one.
Christian Henrichson, a senior policy analyst with the Vera Institute of Justice’s Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, writes about the recent State Budget Crisis Task Force report, fiscal planning, and prison costs—and how they are interrelated. You can read his new post on Vera’s blog.
We welcome your questions and comments about cost-benefit analysis and justice policy.
With budget offices at the local, state, and federal levels focused on cutting costs, why bother looking at benefits that aren’t related to cost savings? Why not focus primarily on the costs of policies and programs?
Budgets are about choices and priorities. We promote policies and fund services we believe the government should pursue because we want those things to generate positive outcomes for our society.
Conducting a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) makes sense when you have an important policy decision to make, along with the time, budgetary resources, analytic resources, and data to do a good study. In other instances, though, doing a CBA may not be the best option. Consider the following situations:
- You don’t have enough information.
Today the Vera Institute of Justice released The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers. This report on state prison costs in 2010 is unique in that it captured taxpayer costs paid by state agencies other than departments of corrections—and not just those within corrections budgets. (In some states the other costs include employee benefits, capital costs, and inmate health care.) Additionally, Vera staff calculated the cost of underfunded contributions to pension and retiree health care programs for corrections employees, figures that must be included in a comprehensive accounting of prison costs.