Home / Crime / Articles / How much do states spend on prisoners?

States incarcerated more than 1 million people[1] at the end of 2021, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics data. To house them, state governments spent a combined $64.0 billion (inflation-adjusted). Spending per prisoner varies more than tenfold across states, from just under $23,000 per person in Arkansas to $307,468 in Massachusetts. Spending in Massachusetts was more than double any other state; the median state spent $64,865 per prisoner for the year.

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How do states distribute corrections funding?

State correction departments allocate most of their budgets to prisons to pay for day-to-day operations, including officer salaries.[2] Some states also fund additional rehabilitation programs, drug treatment centers, and juvenile justice initiatives from their corrections budgets.

State funding does not usually include jails, which hold people awaiting trial or people with sentences of one year or less. Jails are usually operated by county and city law enforcement agencies. However, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont have prison populations small enough to operate “unified” systems integrating the prison and jail systems.

Which states pay correctional officers the most?

The average annual salary for a correctional officer was $58,921 in 2023 after adjusting for inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Pay for correctional officers tends to track overall wages in a particular state. High-wage states like California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts pay officers double the salaries of officers in lower-wage states like Mississippi, Missouri, and Kentucky.

Which states have the highest incarceration rates?

Nationwide, 453 of every 100,000 adult US residents were in prison in 2022. For every 453 prisoners, 397 were held under state jurisdiction and 56 under federal jurisdiction.

States in the Southern US had the highest imprisonment rates, including Mississippi (859 people per 100,000), Louisiana (775), and Arkansas (743). Those rates were, in some cases, five times as high as in some New England states. Massachusetts (116) had the lowest rate of any state, followed by Maine (130), Rhode Island (152), and Vermont (153).

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Prisoners in 2022
Last updated
November 2023
Occupational Employment and Wages
Last updated
April 3, 2024
Annual Survey of State and Local Government Finances
Last updated
June 29, 2023

This data set focuses on those under state (rather than federal) jurisdiction, meaning that the state holds legal authority over the incarcerated person, but not necessarily that they are physically held in that state.

The data set includes people incarcerated in prisons, long-term facilities run by state or federal government typically holding people with sentences of more than one year, but not jails, which are typically run by local governments and holding people with sentences of less than a year. Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont count their jail and prison populations as one, and so this count of imprisoned persons also includes some people in jail from those states.


A small portion of correctional spending, around 3%, is capital expenditure. The rest is assumed to be correctional operations.