The prison system doesn't work. It is too cushy for prisoners, and costs taxpayers way too much. The government statistics I could find say that in 2005 there were 2,135,901 prisoners locked up in all federal, state, and local prisons, and that the long-term increase rate was 3.4% annually for prisoners in the system. The same federal statistics also said that in 2001 it cost an average of $134 a day for each state prisoner to house, feed, supervise, give medical care to, etc. It also said that the long-term average increase of those costs per prisoner were increasing at a rate of about 6.2% per year, about twice the rate of inflation. That would mean that this year it will cost about $181 a day to supervise an average state prisoner. Multiply the cost by the number and you get $141 billion spent by the federal government, all state governments, and all local governments. With 296,191,330 people in the US today and 2,135,901 of them in jail, that leaves 296,191,330 free men, women, and children in the country to each pay $476.46 this year alone for housing and supervising and feeding and giving medical care to those prisoners. That is 1.78% of the per capita (every man, woman and child in the entire country) income of Americans for this year.
The worst part though, is that while inflation really is only about 3% a year, the cost per inmate is increasing by 6.2% per year, and the number of prisoners is growing at a rate of 3.4% per year while the US population is only growing by 0.9% per year, so the percentage of prisoners is getting higher. I put together a spreadsheet with all this data and the increase rates for the next 25 years, and it is very disturbing. If current rates that I found hold up over the next 25 years, then in 2031 it will cost $297,000 a year to take care of a prisoner, there will be almost 5 million prisoners, the total cost will be almost $1.5 trillion for that year, which will result in a cost per capita in the US of $3,976.74, or 3.4% of per capita in come, as compared to 1.78% today.
No, we need to trim down prisons, make them a punishment, not a benefit. There are too many people who don't care if they go back. Some people even commit crimes just to go back because it is a roof and 3 square meals they don't have to work for. Prison time should be hard, and uncomfortable, and unpleasant. The cost to taxpayers should be MINIMAL. Right now, we're not deterring crime with our prisons, which is why we are getting more of it. When people are afraid to go to prison, they think much harder about committing a crime. Think Soviet-era gulags here, but without the torture. Think small, basic solitary cells, basic food, no recreational facilities, TVs or the like. Almost no communication with other inmates or guards. Visiting days come once a month rather than once a week. Exercise time is spent alone, in a small courtyard. Meals are served in the cells, and they will be small (but healthy), as you don't need too much energy to sit around your cell all day. Approved books from a small collection in the prison is your only recreation in the cell, and these would all be educational books about real-life skills. Too many people don't have a fear of going to prison. We need to re-establish prisons as a deterrent, not as a convenient motel when you don't want to work.