It has been estimated that $70 billion is spent by the American government every year on supporting prisons and their inmates. This level of spending has generated a large amount of criticism from citizens and even some politicians, especially when this cost is compared to the mere $31 billion appropriated for financial aid to college students. Each prisoner costs American taxpayers about $30,000 every year. Some prisons, especially those with higher levels of security are even more expensive. A single detainee at the notorious Guantanamo Bay prison costs $900,000 annually, and holds more than 150 prisoners at any given time. The costs associated with each prisoner pay for their food, medical care, and the security required at each prison.
Outside of the yearly cost to support prisoners, prison facilities are also extremely expensive. Even a medium-sized facility like the Cleveland County Jail is estimated to cost $35 million to construct. After building the facility, the state spends money on training correctional officers and staff. Taxes also pay their annual salary, which is about $40,000 on average. With an estimated 240,000 prison guards in America, that means almost $10 billion are required every year just to staff American prisons.
The economy also suffers when new prisoners are removed from the workforce. Even if only a quarter of current prisoners returned to work, it’s estimated that another $40 billion could be saved between their increased economic activity, and reduced costs of supporting them.
There is a radically disproportional distribution of the ethnic backgrounds in American prisons. According the Equal Justice Initiative, in 1998 nearly one out of every three African Americans aged 20-29 were incarcerated or on probation, while only one in 98 white males were in prison. Black males account for forty percent of an average American prison’s population, even though they only make up about 15% of America’s general population. Many people believe that statistics like these serve as clear evidence that the legal system is biased.
Discrimination takes place inside of prisons too. There have been an uncountable number of reports of racism from prison staff, and between groups of prisoners. Prison gangs are especially known for discrimination, particularly because many gangs build their identity on the race of its members, such as the neo-Nazi Aryan Brotherhood, or the Mexican Mafia. The most disadvantaged group in prisons are typically homosexual or transgender inmates, nearly a quarter of which have reported physical or sexual assault from almost every other group of prisoners. These inmates are often seen as easy targets, especially as they are rarely accepted by the groups or gangs that would have otherwise welcomed them.