Can Nevada Avoid The Rising Cost Of Prison?

Posted on by & filed under Nevada by the Numbers Blog.

A recent report for the Nevada Advisory Commission on the Administration of Justice (“the Commission”) prepared by the Crime and Justice Institute (“the Institute”) has been in the news lately, with eye-popping numbers: Nevada’s prison population is already one of the fastest-growing in the nation, and is outpacing state population growth in contrast to other states. While Florida and Nevada both saw a 9% growth in population from 2010-2016, Nevada’s prison population grew by 14% while Florida’s fell by 4%.

Here’s a graph illustrating the contrasts between the states with the fastest growing resident populations between 2010-16 and the growth in their respective prison populations using data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (“BJS”):

For context, according to the BJS, “inmates in custody” includes prisoners in jails, while “sentenced prisoners” specifically looks at those with a sentence of a year or more.

Though Nevada’s sentenced prisoner population seems to be on par with population growth, and inmate growth is much higher, many of the states with high population growth have seen the opposite. Take a look at population and incarceration growth patterns across the country:

If Nevada’s relative outlier status when it comes to incarceration weren’t enough, the Institute’s report projects Nevada’s prison population will grow by a further 9% in the next 10 years, and that growth comes with a projected price tag of $770 million. The Commission made several recommendations aimed at curbing this growth, and saving the state $640 million of those increased costs.

These include (from a Nevada Current summary of the report, including links to their relevant articles):

The Department of Corrections already takes up a chunk of Nevada’s budget, with over $688 million during the 2017-2019 biennium, or 2.6% of the state’s budget. These recommendations have already met resistance from law enforcement and various District Attorney’s offices, but the Commission voted to send them to the Legislature for consideration regardless.