Defunding State Prisons

50 Crim. L. Bull. 1060 (2014)

30 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2013 Last revised: 16 Dec 2014

Date Written: January 1, 2013


Local agencies drive criminal justice policy, but states pick up the tab for policy choices that result in state imprisonment. This distorts local policies and may actually contribute to increased state prison populations, since prison is effectively “free” to the local decisionmakers who send inmates there. This Article looks directly at the source of the “correctional free lunch” problem and proposes to end state funding for prisons. States would, instead, reallocate money spent on prisons to localities to use as they see fit — on enforcement, treatment, or even per-capita prison usage. This would allow localities to retain their decision-making autonomy, but it would internalize the costs of those decisions.

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

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

Suggested Citation

Ball, W. David, Defunding State Prisons (January 1, 2013). 50 Crim. L. Bull. 1060 (2014), Available at SSRN: or

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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