Should American Taxpayers Spend More Money On Welfare Or Prison?


Researchers from Rice University and Louisiana State University illustrated in a recent study that domestic policy encouraging a welfare and police state simultaneously are economically unworkable and do damage to the very people the policies were intended to help.

The study, “Intended and Unintended Consequences of Prison Reform,” examines the impact of Federal court orders condemning prison crowding and the outcomes among States following these orders as incarceration rates continue to rise in the United States. The researchers found that court-mandated efforts by the Federal government to improve living conditions in prisons resulted in less welfare funding for poor Americans.

“When courts are effective in increasing spending on prisoners, the legislature has to increase taxes or cut spending in other programs, given states’ balanced budget requirements,” said Richard Boylan, professor of economics at Rice. “As a result, most of these increases in spending come at the expense of welfare spending and/or other social programs.”

Before courts stepped in, States that ended up being court ordered to improve living conditions spent about 72 percent per inmate of what was spent by States that were not ordered to make prison improvements. The mandates resulted in increased correctional expenditures across the board, to 87 percent per prisoner during the year in which the court order was issued and reaching 102 percent two years after the court order.

The court actions led to lower inmate mortality rates (20 percent decrease), fewer prisoners per capita (12 percent decrease) and all-around better prison living conditions. But the results of the study show that these court orders resulted in a 22 percent decrease in the amount of money available for State welfare programs and other initiatives that could keep poorer Americans out of prison in the first place.

Boylan hopes that the research will underscore the unintended consequences of increased prison spending.

“These results are a classic example of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned policymaking in the face of limited resources, where helping one vulnerable population ends up harming another,” Boylan said.

According to U.S. Census figures, one in 142 Americans is currently in prison, and one of every 32 Americans is either in prison or on parole from prison. That makes for 6.7 million Americans involved in the corrections system. There are nearly 47 million current recipients of food stamps in the United States.

Personal Liberty

Sam Rolley

Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After covering community news and politics, Rolley took a position at Personal Liberty Media Group where could better hone his focus on his true passions: national politics and liberty issues. In his daily columns and reports, Rolley works to help readers understand which lies are perpetuated by the mainstream media and to stay on top of issues ignored by more conventional media outlets.

Join the Discussion

Comment Policy: We encourage an open discussion with a wide range of viewpoints, even extreme ones, but we will not tolerate racism, profanity or slanderous comments toward the author(s) or comment participants. Make your case passionately, but civilly. Please don't stoop to name calling. We use filters for spam protection. If your comment does not appear, it is likely because it violates the above policy or contains links or language typical of spam. We reserve the right to remove comments at our discretion.

  • Bob

    on welfare just for the legal americans

  • Motov

    The best way to deal with prison crowding is legalize marijuana. I bet we could free up 50% of the space there, and for welfare? (I agree with Bob) Stop spending on illegals, round ’em up and send them back, and stop sending money to foreign countries “for aid”.

  • Dave

    At least welfare, tge money gets put back into the economy… The question is stupid. We should be ending the drug war and putting efforts into reforming education so our people can better compete in the global marketplace.

  • Doc Sarvis

    FALSE CHOICE! The real subject to examine is; Should Americans provide more opportunities to the low and middle class instead of re-favoring the top 2%? YES

  • Vigilant

    “These results are a classic example of the unintended consequences of well-intentioned policymaking in the face of limited resources, where helping one vulnerable population ends up harming another,” Boylan said.

    That’s the story of socialism, pure and simple.

    • Dave

      Get your “facts” straight. Countries like Finland, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands employ higher degrees of Socialism than the United States, yet somehow they have less debt, better standard of living, life expectancy and education. Care to excuse those facts somehow?
      It is the stupid “drug war” that conservatives insist on keeping around. In AZ we have a private prison system. Guess how these private prison companies get paid?

      • Bill

        Why are you here if those other countries are so great

        • smilee

          You say if but it is as Dave described not if. What have you got against success. Norway is rated as the best country of the world to live in. Nothing succeeds like success

  • Karolyn

    I’m hearing lately that crime is down. In North Carolina they’re moving to close 2 state prisons.

  • Robert Collins

    I me myself think we as a nation should stop paying every other country’s Bills and pay more att. to our troubles , its like we are paying these country’s to be our friends so they can come back and kill our own people !! keep our Monies right here in this Country and give our own people a helping hand , what the hell we pay to put they kids though school ,college lets do it for our own …..and maybe just maybe we won’t need more prison’s or more Welfare…. thank U for letting me add my TWO CENTS…..


    Sam: Should American Taxpayers Spend More Money On Welfare Or Prison?

    That’s a no-brainer, Sam. How about we start creating jobs and get people off Welfare, and reintroduce the deterrence, “capital-punishment”, which will be sure to keep prisons under-populated, manageable and cost-effective!

  • ChuckS123

    1) How about putting prisoners and welfare recipients to work building roads, border fence, etc.

    2) I think welfare leads to more crime. People who steal from the taxpayers (welfare) may be more inclined to steal from other people. The link points out that single mothers are more likely to have kids who commit crimes and welfare encourages single mothers. And other factors.

  • Michael Shreve

    Supporting and EXPANDING welfare is NOT a laudable goal. Incarcerating those who CANNOT be trusted to live among HONEST people IS. Their quality of life SHOULD be equivalent to that of welfare recipients.

  • Patriot66

    legalize all drugs and reduce the prison State population by 70-80%. Eliminate 90% welfare. It’s time to just start letting people die. There’s just too much excess baggage is this country.