In 2017, the West Virginia Department of Corrections spent approximately $26,000 a year to house, feed, and medically care for the inmates in the state prison system. That came to over $183 Million in prison-related expenditures according to the WVDOC annual report. This included personnel services (~$64 Million), Employee Benefits (~26 Million), Inmate Payroll (~485 thousand), and even Inmate Medical (~21 Million). This budget also includes the upkeep and utilities for the prison facilities.
Graphic Source: West Virginia Division of Corrections
The cost of incarceration to the state’s tax payers is only part of the story. In the last 20 years, West Virginia has seen a 142 percent increase in incarceration from 1996 when there were 2,435 inmates in West Virginia prisons to June 2017, when the DOC reported 5,894 inmates. One of the fastest growing populations in prisons is women. The war on drugs, begun in the 1970s, pushed mandatory minimum sentencing laws, which have resulted in longer sentences for non-violent drug offenses, and more women in prison. Lakin Correctional Facility, West Virginia’s female prison, had 504 inmates in September 2018. It’s full capacity is 543.
Besides the loss of employment income, the families of incarcerated inmates can suffer additional financial burdens when an inmate enters the prison system.
Prison Policy Initiative, an organization researching polices that lead to mass incarceration, reported in Illinois and Massachusetts, incarcerated people spent over $1,000 per person in commissaries, over the course of a year. Commissary costs vary with each facility in each state, but in 2016, Prison Policy estimated that prison and jail commissary sales came to “$1.6 Billion per year nationwide, based in part on data from a 34-state survey by the Association of State Correctional Administrators.” They chose those two states because they were representative of the spectrum, and could give
Incarceration can come with some “hidden” fees that go along with communicating and caring for an inmate. These expenses can add up significant amounts of debt for both inmates and their families. While the degree of debt varies from inmate to inmate, most can still expect some sort of cost to come with incarceration.
Nicholas said that she is still working to get back on her feet, two years after her last prison sentence. She maintains her farm of miniature pigs and fights addiction every day. She said that she’s still working on her relationship with her children and grandchildren. She said the biggest cost she’s faced, is trying to fix those relationships that were damaged by her incarceration.
Story, video and graphic by Darren Hartwell