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Dr. Christine Castro
Dr. Christine CastroPh.D. in American Studies
Josh Michtom
Josh MichtomHartford City Councilman and Public Defender
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Police and corrections budgets became a flashpoint in 2020 due largely to nationwide protests and social unrest brought on by highly publicized cases of excessive force by some law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement budgets are being reevaluated as some jurisdictions consider police spending cuts or reallocation of funds. Local and state government budgets for policing and corrections include sentencing, incarceration and probation. MoneyGeek’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data found that law enforcement spending in the U.S. was $200 billion in 2018, which breaks down to $119 billion on policing and $81 billion on corrections.

MoneyGeek analyzed police and corrections spending data for each state to determine which states spend the most on policing and corrections. States were ranked using per capita spending and the proportion of total state and local spending. Each state was assessed on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more spending on policing and corrections per capita.

Which States Spend the Most on Policing and Corrections?

While police and corrections expenditures may be associated with larger or more densely populated states, data shows Nevada (ranked No. 1) and Alaska (ranked No. 2) spend a larger portion of their budgets on law enforcement than states with higher populations and more metropolitan areas.

While national per capita spending on law enforcement and corrections was $612 in 2018, per capita state spending ranged from $1,254 in Washington, D.C. to $393 in Indiana. Nevada, one of MoneyGeek’s 10 most tax-friendly states in the U.S., spent 7.8% of its budget on law enforcement. Florida, another tax-friendly state, spent 7.3% of its budgets on policing. Both states spent the highest proportion of their local and state expenditures on law enforcement, well above the national average of 5.3%.

Police and Corrections Spending by State

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Democratic and Republican State Policing and Corrections Spending

Analysis of per capita spending finds that blue states spend 38% more on policing and corrections than red states. When analyzing the proportion of their budgets on policing and corrections, both red and blue spend about 5.3% of their state budgets.

Detailed Findings

The detailed findings of MoneyGeek's analysis break down the spending on policing and corrections individually. Some states vary widely, with increased or decreased spending on one category over the other.

Police Spending

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Corrections Spending

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Expert Insight on Police Spending and State Budgeting

States obtain funds through a combination of state, local and property taxes. Additional revenue may also come from tourism and various types of licenses. To get a better sense of how state policing and corrections budgets can affect people served by these systems, we spoke to experts familiar with state and local budgets and how police and corrections expenditures affect other programs.

  1. How does state spending on policing and corrections affect local areas?

    Those are two very different questions because prisons are a state expense and police are a municipal expense. Connecticut's big cities, which are small compared to other cities, have this weird fiscal relationship with the suburbs surrounding them because most of their revenue sources are property taxes. The cities are where most of the property-tax-exempt public services are, such as the state capitol, hospitals, methadone clinics and all those things that serve the region are in the city and don't generate revenue, so all of our big cities are tax-starved. Because of that, there's a complicated formula for the state to pay cities back, but the state never lives up to the modest formula in terms of replacing lost revenue. It's called PILOT, payment in lieu of taxes.

    When you talk about any big spending that the state does, you could say that's money that could be going to the cities to make up for the services that we provide for free to the suburbs.

    In Connecticut, our cities have some of the highest ratios of police to population in the nation. Hartford is more than double the national average. All the cities are always cash-strapped. We spend a ton of money on the police as compared to any social service except education.

    In the case of California, something that might be helpful to remember is that California is only blue because of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The state is huge and the vast majority of it is rural, which is not something outsiders imagine. The rurality of California is more Black and brown than people imagine, overwhelmingly because of immigration demographics; it's Latinx.

    It has an effect in that the state budget provides a blueprint for local budgets to then put forward their own police-centric budgets. For example, I'm in Salinas, California, which has a population of a little over 155,000. It's a pretty big town, but it's in a rural valley.

    One category that might be helpful to answer this question is poverty rates. You'll notice that a vast majority of rural areas, if not all of them, have a poverty rate that's much higher than the national average, which is 11.8%. I'm sure it's going up with the COVID crisis. Salinas and Salinas Valley have continuously been in the 17-24% poverty rate. In Salinas, the budget that just passed gives 45% of the city's budget to the Salinas Police Department. Before COVID the city was facing a $6 million deficit because of money mismanagement. We're now facing a $19 million deficit despite a lot of community organizing.

  2. How can taxpayers let states and cities know how they feel about expenditures on corrections and policing?

    They can vote in their primary and general elections, but I think that's probably not enough. In Hartford, we have 125,000 people, but our voter turnout is extraordinarily low. Politicians like me are not responding to the fact that we may not get elected. But people respond to protests, phone calls and direct engagement.

    At the local level, calling and emailing their council members. People can also look up city ordinances and see what kind of local government structure they have. A lot of people may reach out to their city's mayor because they assume she or he has all the power. If you look at the city ordinance, they may see that their town is run by a combination of a city manager and city council, then the mayor has a vote in the city council and can introduce things, but they are not the ultimate power.

    It's much more effective in those city manager and council setups to contact the individual city council member for your district and to email the city manager, who a lot of people don't realize exists.

  3. Corrections spending represents 40% of the combined spending on policing and corrections. How are these expenditures related, and what does this spending mean for state and local budgets?

    I think it's right to look at those two things as one system. Policing and imprisoning is one system of control, disenfranchisement and perpetual impoverishment. I don't think it's an accident that a lot of the folks who are talking about abolishing incarceration are also talking about abolishing police.

    Sometimes it's a difficult answer and sometimes it's the easiest one. If you have a high police budget, and especially a militarized police force, you're going to have higher rates of incarceration. It also depends on the state and level of parole and probation legislation that they have, and how strict and rigid it might be.

    California has some of the most strict parole and probation legislation on the books, which is why I'm not surprised that it's near the top of states that have the highest police expenditure. These are symbiotic relationships. Not only is it easier to get more of a mass of people into prison through the pervasiveness of police in low-income communities of color, but once they get out they are under constant surveillance. Even the most minor slip-up means going back to prison, and you need a police force for that.


Josh Michtom
Josh MichtomHartford City Councilman and Public Defender
Dr. Christine Castro
Dr. Christine CastroPh.D. in American Studies

Methodology

To determine which states spend the most and least on policing and corrections, MoneyGeek reviewed expenditures for each state, including state and local (municipal and county) government expenditures. We then used the following metrics to determine final scores and rankings:

Per Capita Spend on Policing and Corrections (full weight, 50%): This value is calculated as the combined expenditures on policing and corrections divided by the state's population and is scaled to a range from 0 to 100.

Police and Corrections Spend as a Percentage of All Spend (full weight, 50%): This value is calculated as the combined policing and corrections expenditures divided by the total amounts spent by state and local governments and is scaled to a range from 0 to 100.

About the Author


Ingrid Cruz is a freelance writer based in Mississippi. She enjoys poring over data that can help millennials make better financial choices.


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