Fair Sentencing for Youth



The Fiscal Impact

    Over 6,500 people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime are currently in California state prisons. Over 5,000 have sentences of ten years or more, with more than 2,000 of those cases being indeterminate, life sentences with no clear ending point. Estimates vary as to the annual cost of incarceration, but there is no question that it is expensive. In 2010, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation stated that each inmate costs $44,688 per year to incarcerate.

    Since 1990, California has spent between 66 and 83 million dollars incarcerating childhood offenders sentenced to life without parole alone, according to experts at the University of California at Berkeley and Tulane University.1 To incarcerate just those who have already been sentenced until their deaths in prison will cost the state a total of approximately half a billion dollars, including funds already spent and not adjusting for inflation.

    Newly convicted youth offenders sentenced to life without parole will cost the state additional sums. Each new youth offender sentenced to life without parole will cost the state another 2 million to 2.5 million dollars.

    1 Berkeley/Tulane Initiative on Vulnerable Populations (Patrick Vinck, Ph.D.), April 12, 2007. This figure was based on a general life expectancy in California of 78.2 years. There are no publicly available reliable estimates of life expectancy in California’s prisons. CJL Murray, SC Kulkarni, et al., “Eight Americas: Investigating Mortality Disparities across Races, Counties, and Race-Counties in the United States,” Public Library of Science Medicine, vol. 3, no. 9, September 12, 2006, www.medicine.plosjournals.org. The initiative’s estimate is based on a juvenile life without parole population of 219; considering the fact that the population is at least 227, the estimate may be low. Cost estimates are based on two state estimates of the cost of incarcerating each prisoner per year in California: $34,150 per year and $43,000 per year. Compare, California Legislative Analyst’s Office, “Criminal Law Primer for California,” January 1, 2007, www.lao.ca.gov/LAOApp/PubDetails.aspx?id=1543 (accessed October 28, 2007), p. 66  (estimating the annual cost to incarcerate a prisoner as over $43,000); and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, “Facts and Figures,” 4th Quarter  2005, www.corr.ca.gov/divisionsboards/aoap/factfiguresarchive/factsfigures4thq2005.html (accessed October 28, 2007), (stating that the annual cost to incarcerate a prisoner in California is $34,000).