It costs $20,758 a year to house an inmate in a California state prison in 1998-99. Many people ask, "Why so much when we can educate a child for less than one-fourth that amount?"

  A prison, however, is not a school. Therein lies the answer.

  The state must meet all basic needs of an inmate-food, shelter, clothing and health care. Numerous laws, court actions and regulations mandate the level and the extent of these basic support services. There are also costs to diagnose and process inmates. But by far the greatest expense-and the greatest need-in prison is security. The state must make sure that the prisons are safe for both inmates and staff.

  Reception/Diagnosis: Avg Cost Per Year $156, Percent of Total 0.8%
  Before being assigned to a permanent location, an inmate must be fully evaluated in a Reception Center. The first consideration is security-determining the most appropriate custody level (minimum through maximum). Each inmate also undergoes medical and psychiatric evaluations and educational tests. After reviewing the inmates' case history and test results, Corrections staff determine the most appropriate prison placement.

  Security $11,016 53%
  Inmates in state prisons are convicted felons. They must be supervised 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Custody staff oversee the inmates' movements from the time they wake up, during meals, when working or in class, during free time, and while they sleep. More than half of the cost of incarceration can be attributed to this critical need.

  Health Care $3,044 14.7%
  Inmates in California state prisons have access to a full range of health care services-medical, dental and psychiatric. Corrections also runs four licensed acute care hospitals, and one licensed heath center for female inmates, and contracts with the state Department of Mental Health for inpatient psychiatric care.

  Inmate Support $5,384 25.9%
  For every incarcerated inmate, the state provides a clean, dry place to stay, three meals a day, necessary clothing, case processing, religious programs and other leisure time activities. Combined, these basic services account for more than one-fourth of all inmate costs.

  Inmate Work/Training $1,158 5.6%
  Every inmate is expected to work or go to school. Inmate labor helps keep the prison running. Inmates mop floors, serve food, act as clerks and maintain prison grounds. Many of the 65 vocational programs offered throughout the system lead to skilled jobs in prison industries. Every prison also offers complete adult basic education classes through high school/GED, including English as a second language. Less than six percent is spent on inmate work and training programs.