Skip to main content

Segregation is Bad Public Policy

Policies that restrict the opportunity of a prisoner to work, to earn "good time" or other credit toward release keep people in prison longer, and thus make little sense, particularly in difficult economic times. In Alabama, incarceration costs an average of $41.00 per day per prisoner; in South Carolina, that cost is $35.00 and in Mississippi, $40.00 per day.[1] In addition, many HIV-positive prisoners are housed in maximum security prisons when lower custody facilities are less expensive. For example, in Mississippi, it costs $52 dollars per day to house a prisoner in maximum security at the Mississippi State Penitentiary (where the HIV unit is located) compared to $32 dollars per day at a medium or minimum security facility, an additional $7,300 per year per prisoner. [2]

Work release and community corrections programs also are more cost-effective than continuing to incarcerate a prisoner until the last day of his or her sentence. In 2003 the ACLU conducted a study of the cost savings to Alabama if prisoners from the segregated HIV units were placed into work release at the same rates as other prisoners. The report found that due to a $5,000-7,000 difference in the annual cost of incarceration compared with the cost of work release, the state could save between $306,000 and $372,000 per year by repealing the prohibition on work release for prisoners with HIV.[3] Alabama has since done so, but the work release policy still unreasonably limits eligibility, thus reducing the amount of savings that could be realized. Prisoners earning money from work release jobs pay child support, victim restitution, and often contribute to the cost of their room and board while on the program. In South Carolina, for example, prisoners contribute 20 percent of their wages to victim restitution and 35 percent to child support. These requirements have generated millions of dollars for the South Carolina Victims Compensation Fund.[4]

Finding and maintaining a job is a critical element of prisoner re-entry. Work release programs have been shown to significantly reduce recidivism.[5]  Prisoners on work release establish relationships with outside employers. If they remain employed after release, they become tax-paying citizens. As a matter of fiscal policy, promoting, rather than restricting, work release opportunities is the more cost-effective approach. 

Similarly, targeted pre-release programs can improve a prisoner's chances of a successful transition to the community. South Carolina's STOP program provides an example. The South Carolina Department of Corrections describes the Short Term Offender Program (STOP) as follows:

The STOP Unit is a fast track program addressing the needs of male offenders that have shorter sentences, one year or less. It provides practical and useful life skills training, education, vocational, rehabilitation, and employment assistance for offenders who may not have previously had access to intensive institutional programs, pre-release preparation or community resources.[6]

Yet HIV-positive prisoners with sentences as short as 90 days are ineligible for STOP. Rather, they are assigned to the segregated unit at the maximum security prison that houses death row. This policy undermines the mission of the South Carolina Department of Corrections which is to "provide rehabilitation and self-improvement opportunities for prisoners." [7] Depriving prisoners of opportunities to become productive citizens is costly and unwise as well as unjust. Lifting these barriers would bring short and long term benefits to the individuals, their families, and the community.



[1] Alabama Department of Corrections, "Frequently Asked Questions," online, (accessed December 13, 2009); Response from South Carolina Department of Corrections to ACLU request for documents under the Freedom of Information Law, dated June 22, 2009;Mississippi Department of Corrections, "Cost Per Inmate Day by Facility Type FY 2009", online, (accessed December 12, 2009).

[2] Mississippi Department of Corrections, "Cost Per Inmate Day by Facility Type FY 2009", online, (accessed December 12, 2009).

[3] Maddow, R., "The Cost of Excluding Alabama State Prisoners with HIV/AIDS from Community-Based Programs" April 2003, on file with Human Rights Watch and ACLU-NPP.

[4] South Carolina Department of Corrections, "Inmates Now Contributing More to Help Victims," online, (accessed December 12, 2009).

[5] Urban Institute, Justice Policy Center, "Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Re-entry" (January 2006);Solomon, A. et al, "From Prison to Work: The Employment Dimensions of Prison Re-entry, A Report of the Re-entry Roundtable," Urban Institute, October 2004;  For a recent review of studies associating work release with reduced recidivism, see, Washington State Institute for Public Policy, "Does Participation in Washington's Work Release Facilities Reduce Recidivism?" November 2007.

[6] South Carolina Department of Corrections, "Broad River Correctional Facility," online, (accessed December 12, 2009).

[7] Mission Statement, South Carolina Department of Corrections website, (accessed November 24, 2009).

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.