Friday, May 7, 2010

Corrections Expenditures Border Battle: Gophers v. Badgers

Minnesota and Wisconsin are two states frequently compared to one another due to their similar populations and demographics.  In terms of corrections spending, however, they could not be more different.  In Minnesota, $460 million is spent annually on the 152,319 (1 in 26) adults under correctional control.  Wisconsin, on the other hand, spends $1.08 billion each year to supervise 110,642 adults (1 in 39) in corrections.  So, who wins?  Which state's citizens are safer?  


In the Gopher State, the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) operates both adult and juvenile correctional facilities (10 total) and provides probation, supervised release, and parole services with the support of 4,250 staff persons.  In FY2010, the DOC budgeted nearly $300 million for institutional operations, $115 million for community services, and $21 million for operations support.  In FY2008, DOC expenditures totaled 2.6% of the general fund.

Minnesota’s 1973 Community Corrections Act (CCA) established a comprehensive strategy to incarcerate serious offenders, allow local communities to address the needs of less serious offenders, and facilitate community supervision programs that maintain public safety.  The act also authorizes the DOC to award subsidy grants to participating counties, which then operate parole services at the local level.  Thirty-two of Minnesota’s 87 counties (representing 70% of the population) participate in CCA programming.  In 1980, the state established felony sentencing guidelines to formalize when an offender should be imprisoned and for what recommended length of time, based on offense and offender characteristics.  Together, the CCA and sentencing guidelines helped slow the growth of the state’s prison population (see Figure 1, below).  

In 1982, 14% of Minnesota’s correctional population was in prison (ranking Minnesota 49th out of 50 states and Washington, DC); at the end of 2007, 12% was incarcerated (ranking Minnesota a winning 51st).

The Minnesota DOC maintains lower-than-average prison expenditures by focusing on probation, parole, and community supervision services.  Housing an offender costs the state $89.77 per day whereas supervising an individual in the community costs just $3.73 per day.  In all, the DOC spends approximately 17% of its budget on probation and parole services.


Across the border, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections manages nearly 40 corrections-related facilities; provides health, education, employment, and offender programming; administers probation and parole; and operates a number of community-based programs.  The department employs over 10,300 full-time equivalent positions.  The $1.08 billion budget includes just over $1 billion for corrections facilities and nearly $175 million for probation and parole services.  In FY2008, DOC spending totaled 9.2% of general purpose revenue funds.

While Minnesota enacted legislation and guidelines to control its prison population, Wisconsin instead reacted to opposite political forces.  Throughout the 1990s, public safety concerns gave rise to decreasing parole rates, extending prison sentences by over 16%.  Wisconsin also added six 

times as many prisoners to its facilities as Minnesota during this period (see Figure 2, to the right).  

In 1982, 25% of the state’s corrections population was incarcerated (ranking Wisconsin 32nd out of the 50 states and Washington, DC); by 2007 36% was incarcerated (ranking Wisconsin 25th).

Wisconsin’s high corrections spending is primarily due to its reliance on incarcerating offenders.  As in Minnesota, the cost to detain an offender is more than 20 times what it costs to supervise an offender on probation or parole.  The Wisconsin DOC spends approximately 14% of its budget on probation and parole.  

Most important, though, is the fact that crime rates do not significantly differ between the two states.  In Wisconsin, 3,030 crimes were reported for every 100,000 citizens in 2008; in Minnesota, 3,113 crimes were reported.  And so, it appears that Minnesota wins this public finance battle by achieving the same public safety results at more than half the cost.  

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