State and Federal Prisons:

Factors That Affect Construction and Operations Costs

GGD-92-73: Published: May 19, 1992. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) costs for individual state and federal prisons; and (2) factors that contributed to differences in prison construction and operations costs.

GAO found that: (1) at the 36 medium-security prisons sampled, total construction costs ranged from a low of $6 million to a high of $256 million; (2) the construction costs per bed at medium-security prisons ranged from $11,000 to $93,000, and the cost per bed at high-cost prisons averaged almost five times as much as the cost per bed at low cost prisons; (3) the most important factor contributing to differences in prison construction costs is the amount of space provided; (4) several other factors contribute to difference in construction costs, including the type of building structure, the housing unit design and layout, whether the prison is built to accommodate inmates from different security levels, and geographic location; (5) none of the alternative combinations of those factors explain the significant amount of additional variability in construction costs beyond that explained by the amount of space provided to each inmate; (6) state and federal prison systems have revised their design standards to allow for more multiple occupancy cells, but those factors previously identified could continue to affect differences in prison construction costs even after the revisions are fully implemented; (7) operations costs at 23 prisons range from $22.25 to $81.08 per inmate per day and average $41.93; (8) personnel costs are the single largest operational expense, ranging from 65 to 93 percent of total operations costs; and (9) amounts spent for supplies, materials, and food also contribute to differences in operations costs.

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