Montana has a big problem with meth. A lot more heroin is coming into the state.
Most people using these drugs eventually get caught by police.
They wind their way through our court system and typically go to prison.
Is this the right approach?
I don’t think so.
Let’s run the numbers to find out for sure.
The Federal Level
At the federal level, it cost $87.61 to house an inmate each day in our federal prison system back in 2015.
When a prisoner is close to release they might go to a halfway house, and these cost $71.46 a day.
So it costs nearly $32,000 a year to keep a person in federal prison.
We have 102 federal prisons in the country with 197,000 inmates, and 97,000 of them are in for drug offenses.
In Montana in 2016, we had 95 federal inmates in our state prison system.
Those 95 individuals cost federal taxpayers over $3 million that year.
The State Level
Nationwide, we have a little over 1.3 million people in our state prison systems.
208,000 of these people are in for drug-related issues.
The average cost to house a person in prison varies by state, with an average of $31,000, though some states are as high as $60,000.
Here in Montana we have 1,500 inmates at the Montana State Prison, and the average cost to house them in 2016 was $117.16 a day.
So one inmate costs Montana taxpayers $42,763 a year, on average.
Those 1,500 individuals require $64 million in state funding each year.
Another 1,400 people are on staff with the Montana Department of Corrections to see to those 1,500 inmates.
The average salary for those individuals is $34,796 a year, which comes out to $48 million a year for the whole staff.
So it costs Montana taxpayers $112 million a year, in effect.
And that’s not even counting how much it costs to keep the lights on.
Between 2012 and 2016, the Montana prison system took in 2,419 people for possession of drugs.
In fact, possession of drugs is the #1 reason people go into Montana’s state prison system (criminal endangerment is #2, with 1,712 people).
Most of those 2,419 people are doing 67 months in jail, or a five-and-a-half-year-term.
Our Treatment System
Now let’s look at in-patient treatment.
The typical stays in an in-patient treatment center are 30, 60 or 90 days, but sometimes longer.
90-day stays currently have the highest rates of success, though it’s figured 70% to 90% of people in treatment will have at least one relapse.
The average cost for an inpatient treatment center is $6,000 for 30 days, though “well-known centers often cost up to $20,000.”
If you go 60 to 90 days, the average cost can be as low as $12,000 or as high as $60,000.
For comparison’s sake, it costs around $5,000 on average for a 90-day outpatient treatment program.
If we do the math we know it takes $3,514 to house a prisoner in Montana each month.
It costs nearly twice as much to send someone to treatment for that month, but the long-term benefits far outweigh that cost.
It just makes a lot more sense to send someone to inpatient treatment instead of 5.5 years in prison with an associated cost of $235,000.
Maybe that person has some relapses and it takes them a year to get clean with inpatient treatment. That cost could then potentially be $72,000.
If that person was able to get clean after that year, however, the state could potentially save $163,000 by not housing them in prison for another four-and-a-half years.
Perhaps you’d need fewer staffers to oversee the decreased prison population, resulting in further savings.
Sadly, these savings may never be realized as Montana has a big shortage of in-patient treatment options.
Currently there are 5 in-patient drug treatment centers in Montana.
Why so few?
I don’t know.
I couldn’t find much on it, but my assumption is that it’s a combination of insurance not covering that in most cases, as well as a lack of state and federal support via funding.
I think it would be in Montana’s long-term interest to fund more in-patient treatment centers, whether those centers are public or private.
It makes more sense to send someone with serious drug problems to treatment than it does to send them to prison.
We’d also save a lot of money, if you look at the average stays in prison vs. treatment.
Having that drug addict get clean and then get back together with their family after a year instead of five years would also do a lot to help ameliorate the problems that broken families often have to deal with, and the burden to our court system that often comes from them.
I think a lot of legislators know that treatment is a better option, it’s just that we’re not seeing that play out on the ground.
Hopefully there’ll be more dialogue about this when the legislature starts up in three months.
“5 Montana Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Rehab Centers.” Rehab Center. Retrieved 25 September 2018. https://www.rehabcenter.net/inpatient-rehab-centers/montana-inpatient-rehab-centers/
“Annual Determination of Average Cost of Incarceration.” National Archives Federal Register. 19 July 2016. https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/07/19/2016-17040/annual-determination-of-average-cost-of-incarceration
“Cost of Drug and Alcohol Rehab.” Addiction Center. Retrieved 25 September 2018. https://www.addictioncenter.com/rehab-questions/cost-of-drug-and-alcohol-treatment/
“Federal inmates in private prison aren’t going anywhere.” Missoulian. 25 August 2016.
“How Long Does Treatment Take?” Addiction Center. Retrieved 25 September 2016. https://www.addictioncenter.com/rehab-questions/how-long-does-treatment-take/
Mills, Eliza. “How much does it cost to send someone to prison?” Marketplace. 19 May 2017. https://www.marketplace.org/2017/05/15/world/how-much-does-it-cost-send-someone-prison
“Montana Department of Corrections 2017 Biennial Report.” Montana Department of Corrections. Retrieved 25 September 2018. https://cor.mt.gov/Portals/104/Resources/Reports/2017BiennialReport.pdf
Wagner, Peter and Rabuy, Bernadette. “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2017.” Prison Policy Initiative. 14 March 2017. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2017.html