According to a recently published study by the Vera Institute of Justice, the average annual cost per inmate in Minnesota’s prison system was $41,364 for fiscal year 2010. The average daily population of Minnesota’s prisons in 2010 was 9,557 inmates. Notably, these costs do not reflect the substantial costs of operating the county jail system, which holds thousands of inmates each year – most for short periods of time.
Interestingly, in 2010 Minnesota’s per capita income was $42,847, according to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research. Hence, the average annual income of every Minnesota resident is roughly equal to the average annual cost per inmate in our prison system. Given our prison system’s substantial costs and the state’s persistent budget woes, our legislators should reflect whether lengthy presumptive prison sentences under the sentencing guidelines make sense for non-violent offenders — many of whom are serving time for drug possession crimes or even felony DWI. It seems to me that our strained resources could be allocated much more effectively.