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.
The seventh annual Academic & Health Policy Conference on Correctional Health will take place March 20 and 21 in Houston. On Thursday, March 20, from 4:30 to 5:30, Matt McKillop, senior research associate with the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Christian Henrichson, senior policy analyst with the Vera Institute of Justice’s Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit, will give a talk on state correctional health care expenditures.
Tom Roy is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC). We recently interviewed Grant Duwe, the agency’s director of research, about how the DOC is using cost-benefit analysis (CBA). We corresponded with Commissioner Roy to expand on the discussion.
Can you tell us how you see CBA as helpful to your work and your staff’s work? What cost-benefit studies about criminal justice have you found especially valuable—and how so?
Last week, the Pew Charitable Trusts’ State Health Care Spending Project published a new report, Managing Prison Health Care Spending. The paper discusses practices that have important cost-benefit implications, such as these:
- Telehealth. By using electronic communications and information technology in clinical care, this approach doesn’t just control costs, but in some states delivers “better, cheaper care” to inmates.
The costs and benefits of criminal justice policies affect us all—taxpayers, elected officials, practitioners, and society as a whole. As cost-benefit analysts and budget officials know, any meaningful discussion about government costs requires an understanding of marginal costs because these are the costs affected by policy changes.
Because little concrete information is available about how to calculate marginal costs for cost-benefit analyses (CBA) of justice policies or programs, CBKB has published A Guide to Calculating Justice-System Marginal Costs.
This spring CBKB will publish A Guide to Calculating Justice-System Marginal Costs. Primarily a “how-to” technical guide for analysts, the publication is also intended to inform policymakers who have an interest in the costs and benefits of criminal justice initiatives. (Note: We published the guide in May.)
This won’t be the first time CBKB has addressed marginal costs.
In December the Federal Communications Commission released a notice of proposed rulemaking for interstate inmate calling services. The question before the FCC is whether to issue new incentives and/or regulations to ensure “just and reasonable” telephone rates for individuals at correctional facilities. In the United States, incarcerated adults are typically limited to making collect calls or debit calls (with charges deducted from an account).
Tracey Kyckelhahn is a statistician with the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), part of the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice. She is the author of the report State Corrections Expenditures, 1982-2010, which was published in December. We asked Kyckelhahn about BJS’s sources for justice system costs and some challenges associated with collecting and analyzing them.