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Determinants of the Costs of Operating Large-Scale Prisons With Implications for the Cost of Correctional Standards

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 1982
23 pages
An economic model is used to explore the determinants of prison costs for a selected group of Federal correctional institutions (FCI's) and assess how compliance with major correctional standards may affect operating costs.
Standards analyzed include those set by the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals (1973), Federal and State courts (e.g., James v. Wallace, 1976), and the Commission on Accreditation for Correction (1977). Most of these standards relate to quality of physical facilities, such as the overall size of the prison, cell size, etc. Based on the economic theory of production, the model's measure of output is the number of inmates multiplied by the number of days confined. The total cost is determined by the level of output, the prices of inputs (labor, equipment, facilities), and the technology used. A number of variables were included as controls -overcrowding, rehabilitative activities, age of facilities, staff demographics, etc. Data were obtained on 21 FCI's for the period October 1975 to June 1978, and 6 FCI's were selected for closer analysis. Data indicate that a prison will have higher costs if it is either small or very large; if it provides few sanitary facilities; and if it provides fewer square feet of living space and few single cells. Minimum cost per confined day will probably be achieved with prisons of rather substantial size (1,000 to 1,600 inmates). The cost penalty associated with prisons as small as 500 (advocated by the Commission on Accreditation) is likely to be substantial. However, standards requiring more living space and single cells may actually lower rather than raise costs of confinement. Tables, 29 notes, 1 case citation, and more than 35 references are provided.

Date Published: January 1, 1982