$900,000 per inmate: World's most expensive prison (+video)
$900,000 per inmate makes Guantanamo Bay the world's most expensive prison. That's 13 times the cost of a super max inmate. Is $900,000 per inmate worth it to US taxpayers?
It's been dubbed the most expensive prison on Earth and President Barack Obama cited the cost this week as one of many reasons to shut down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, which burns through some $900,000 per prisoner annually.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.
By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.
The high cost was just one reason Obama cited when he returned this week to an unfulfilled promise to close the prison and said he would try again. Obama also said that the prison, set up under his Republican predecessor George W. Bush and long the target of criticism by rights groups and foreign governments, is a stain on the reputation of the United States.
"It's extremely inefficient," said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank, who has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay since 2005.
"That ... may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States," Gude said.
The cost argument could be a potent weapon at a time of running budget battles between Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, and of across-the-board federal spending cuts that kicked in in March. The "sequestration" as it is known, is due to cut some $109 billion in spending up to the end of September and has cut government services small and large.
Just one inmate from Guantanamo, for example, is equivalent to the cost of 12 weeks of White House tours for the public - a treasured tradition that the Secret Service says costs $74,000 a week and that has been axed under sequestration.
A single inmate is also the equivalent of keeping open the control tower at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport for 45 months. That control tower, another victim of cuts, costs $20,000 per month to run.
The $900,000 also matches the funding for nearly seven states to help serve home delivered meals to the elderly. Sequestration has cost Meals on Wheels a median shortfall of $129,497 per state, the organization says.
Or measured in terms of military spending and national security, the cost of four inmates represents the cost of training an Air Force fighter pilot - based on the Department of Defense's figure of $3.6 million per pilot.