Why State Prisons?

W. David Ball

Santa Clara School of Law

February 1, 2014

33 Yale Law & Policy Review 75 (2014)

There is plenty of conversation about how to reduce state prison populations, but what almost no one talks about is this: states are under no obligation to provide prisons, nor are they obliged to pay for the costs associated with prison sentences. Perhaps this silence comes from an assumption that state governments have always paid for prison, but, as this Article reveals, this conventional wisdom is wrong. In fact, states neither built prisons nor paid for incarceration until the middle of the 19th century. The decisions of local officials drive prison admissions — via arresting, charging, and sentencing — but given the political economy of local decision-making, local preferences are unlikely to result in optimally-sized state prison populations. This Article suggests that since state prison subsidies may not be desirable and are certainly not inevitable, it may be time for states to reconsider paying for prisons.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 47

Keywords: prison, sentencing, corrections, federalism, local government, crime, criminal law

JEL Classification: H1, H2, H3, H4, H7

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Date posted: June 27, 2011 ; Last revised: June 6, 2015

Suggested Citation

Ball, W. David, Why State Prisons? (February 1, 2014). 33 Yale Law & Policy Review 75 (2014). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1871274 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1871274

Contact Information

W. David Ball (Contact Author)
Santa Clara School of Law ( email )
500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053
United States
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