Groundbreaking Report

Press Release May 27, 2008
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 646-335-5384 or Roseanne Scotti at 609-610-8243

Trenton-A groundbreaking new report, “Wasting Money, Wasting Lives: Calculating the Hidden Costs of Incarceration in New Jersey” was released today at a statehouse press conference featuring Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan (D-Union) and Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. The report was commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance and authored by Professors Meredith Kleykamp and Jake Rosenfeld, and Roseanne Scotti.

In addition to the cost of operating prisons themselves, the usual measure of incarceration costs, the report analyzed hidden costs such as lost wages while people are incarcerated, lost life-time wages post incarceration that result from diminished employment opportunities, lost taxable income to cities and the state and lost child support. Research has shown that if the hidden costs of incarceration are calculated along with the direct costs, the comprehensive costs of incarceration is 70 to 150 percent higher than the direct costs.

The report calculated costs based on the individuals who entered New Jersey’s prisons in 2003, the last year for which complete data were available. The report found that it will cost New Jersey $1.26 million to incarcerate just those who entered the system in 2003 and while those individuals are incarcerated they will lose a quarter of a billion dollars in lost wages (see attached executive summary). This means that the state of New Jersey will lose a quarter of a billion dollars in taxable income–money that would go to cities and states as taxes and which would go into the economy to support families and children, pay for housing and support local businesses.

In addition, once those individuals leave prison, they will face severely limited employment options. Formerly incarcerated individuals earn 30 to 40 percent less than those who have never been in prison. The report estimates that those who entered prison in 2003 will lose a total of $1.5 billion in wages over their lifetimes. Again, this translates to $1.5 billion in lost taxable revenue to the state.

New Jersey is facing a severe budget deficit and considering closing hospitals and parks, cutting funding for nursing homes and medical care for New Jersey seniors, and slashing funding for education from Pre-K through college. At the same time, the report finds that the state’s bloated corrections system is costing New Jersey taxpayers billions of dollars in direct and indirect costs.

Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, stated that New Jersey’s staggering incarceration costs are a direct result of failed policies that mandated harsh mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offences. “Twenty years ago New Jersey and many other states began a radical social experiment with mandatory minimum sentences and mass incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. Today New Jersey taxpayers are paying the price for this failed experiment. The bottom line is that prison in a very expensive and ineffective way to address nonviolent drug law offenses.”

Meredith Kleykamp, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Kansas, and one of the report’s lead authors, noted that the report was inspired by a growing body of research aimed at calculating the true economic costs of incarceration and studying the link between mass incarceration and poverty. “We are creating an entire caste of marginally employable people unable to be competitive in our economy and unable to support their families and communities,” said Kleykamp. Jake Rosenfeld, the report’s other lead author concurred. “Incarceration creates a huge pool of people who are economic and labor market outsiders. Humane criminal justice policies — such as a massive expansion of drug courts — would save the state much needed dollars, help those individuals convicted of crimes regain their economic footing, and contribute to the revitalization of communities that bear a disproportionate burden of our current correctional policies.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has long advocated for the reinvestment of resources from the overuse of prison to investment in prevention and community programs, emphasized that overuse of incarceration not only wastes taxpayer money but exacerbates social inequality and injustice. “It is time to stop the madness, stop the hemorrhaging of tax payer dollars into a corrections system that is not fixing the problem. There is a way out. It is not an issue of can, but an issue of will we choose the cheaper option, the moral option. We have to change the way we are fighting this war on drugs or else it will continue to fracture our state along economic lines, fracture our state along racial lines.”

Also present at the press conference was Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, Deputy Majority Leader, who sits on the Assembly Budget Committee. He praised the report and said it would initiate a discussion in the legislature. “This report is one of the most illuminating reports I have read during my time in the legislature,” said Cryan. “It details the fiscal cost, moral cost, and family cost. It is a blueprint of economic and moral balance.”

Roseanne Scotti also announced the launch of the “New Solutions Campaign” to advocate for alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. “The bottom line is that incarceration triggers a downward spiral of disadvantage that affects the person who is incarcerated, their family and their community. We can do better.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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