Abhi Sivasailam
I recently heard a legislator discuss potential budget savings that Missouri could see with cuts to its corrections system. To put the idea of these cuts into perspective, I looked for spending data and found this interview with Joseph Eddy, budget director for the state corrections department. An edifying excerpt:
The department’s Joseph Eddy says it costs $44.68 a day per inmate. He says $12.14 a day is for medical and mental health services. Another $2.54 pays for three meals a day.

Prisoners also are paid for their work—7-dollars-50 cents a month. If they have their GED, they can earn an extra dollar. That’s about 35 cents a day.

Eddy says the direct costs of each inmate every day is $16.39 a day. The other $28 go for the administrative and prison personnel, utilities, and other costs that go with running a prison.

Per my calculations, that amounts to $16,308.20 per year, which is 26 percent smaller than the federal poverty line of $22,050 — and less than I would have expected. A quick search of the per-inmate expenditures in peer states suggests that Missouri ranks toward the bottom in its per-inmate expenditures.

It is interesting that the direct costs of each inmate amount to only 37 percent of the total cost per each inmate. Even more interesting is that medical care represents a full 74 percent of the direct costs of each inmate. To me, all of this suggests that there is actually not a lot of fat that can or will be trimmed, and that those looking to prioritize significant savings would do well to look elsewhere. That being said, there may still be ways for the state corrections department to operate more efficiently. In a subsequent post, I'll discuss how Missouri can create markets and design incentives in ways that can save it some of the money it currently spends on corrections.

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Abhi Sivasailam