California prison reforms have reduced inmate numbers, not costs

California prison reforms have reduced inmate numbers, not costs

In 2012, under court order to reduce prison overcrowding, California announced an ambitious criminal justice reform plan that promised not only to meet the court mandate but also to improve criminal sentencing and “save billions of dollars.”

Now, three years after implementing the changes, California has reduced its prison population by some 30,000 inmates, and the state is in the vanguard of a prison reform movement spreading across the country, with support from both the right and the left.

But the promise of savings – a chief goal of prison reform nationwide – has not been realized. Instead, costs have risen.

The price tag for housing, feeding and caring for a prisoner in California has climbed to almost $64,000 annually, up from $49,000 five years ago. Per prisoner, the state spends more than three times the amount it did 20 years ago when the population was a similar size.

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