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Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 1999

February 08, 2002

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Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 1999

Member Submission

by Sidra Lea Gifford, Bureau of Justice Statistics

In 1999 the United States spent a record $147 billion for police protection, corrections, and judicial and legal activities. The Nation's expenditure for operations and outlay of the justice system increased 309% from almost $36 billion in 1982. Discounting inflation, that represents a 145% increase in constant dollars.

Local governments funded more than half of all justice system expenses. Another 39% of justice funding came from the States.

Criminal and civil justice expenditures comprised approximately 7.7% of all State and local public expenditures in 1999. Compared to justice expenditures, State and local governments in the United States spent almost four times as much on education, almost twice as much on public welfare, and a roughly equal amount on hospitals and healthcare.

In March of 1999 the Nation's justice system employed nearly 2.2 million persons, with a total March payroll of $7.2 billion. More than half of all justice employees worked at the local level (63% of whom worked in police protection). A third were State employees (65% in corrections). The remaining 8.7% were Federal employees more than half of whom worked in police protection.

Data presented in this report are derived from the Justice Expenditure and Employment Extracts, which is compiled from the Census Bureau's Annual Government Finance Survey and Annual Survey of Public Employment. The extracts present public expenditure and employment data pertaining to justice activities in the United States, including police, judicial and legal services, and correctional activities.

Trends in spending by level of government

Since 1982 total justice expenditures more than quadrupled from nearly $36 billion to nearly $147 billion. The average annual increase for all levels of government between 1982 and 1999 was 8.1%.

Expenditure on criminal and civil justice reflected a change in responsibility. The Federal government had a larger average annual increase in justice spending from 1982 to 1999 (10.6%) than the State and local governments (9.3% and 7.3% respectively).

Federal intergovernmental spending on justice activities rose from $189 million in 1982 to more than $5.2 billion in 1999. This increase was due to the creation of several large grant programs in the 1980's and 1990's.
Such programs include:
- the Family Services Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services which gives grants to States for child support enforcement
- the COPS program
- Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Programs
- Local Law Enforcement Block Grants.

Between 1982 and 1999 the Federal government increased its expenditure on police protection by 485.5%, judicial and legal services by 512.6%, and corrections by 654.2%. The State and local governments had smaller increases in all functions.

The average annual increase was highest for corrections, ranging from a 9.4% increase per year by the local governments to an 11.9% increase per year by the Federal government.

Police protection was the justice function with the lowest annual increase. Among State and local governments, the average annual increase on police protection was only about 7%. The Federal government expenditure for police protection increased by about 10% annually.

Distribution of expenditure by level of government and activity

Within each category of justice activity, the distribution of expenditure by level of government reflects the different responsibilities of each level:

- Overall, local police spending represented 31.1% of the Nation's total justice expenditure, and State corrections accounted for the second largest portion, 23.7%.
- Police protection is primarily a local responsibility; accordingly, local governments spent 69.8% of the total police protection expenditure in the country in 1999.
- Corrections is primarily a State responsibility, and the State governments accounted for 62.8% of the Nation's corrections expenditure.
- Judicial and legal services in the United States were funded primarily by local (43.2%) and State (35.4%) governments.

The Federal government spent the most on intergovernmental grants-in-aid, shared revenues, and amounts paid to other governments for services performed. About half of the Federal intergovernmental expenditure was for police protection, much of which were law enforcement grants. About half of the State and local intergovernmental expenditures were for corrections.

Expenditures by State

Across the Nation, State and local governments spent $442.14 per capita on justice activities. This ranged from $227.96 per capita in West Virginia to $1,212.27 in the District of Columbia.

In 14 States and the District of Columbia the per capita expenditure was above that of the nation as a whole. As in 1995 (the most recent employment and expenditure Bulletin), West Virginia had the least per capita justice expenditure, while New York, Alaska, and the District of Columbia had the highest per capita expenditure. However, Alaska, was one of two States in addition to the District of Columbia whose per capita expenditure decreased after 1995. (See Justice Expenditure and Employment in the United States, 1995, NCJ 178235).

All State and local per capita justice expenditure increased by 25%. The State with the highest increase in per capita expenditure since 1995 was Wyoming, which increased 65%.

In general crime rates and expenditure are related.* States with high crime rates tend to have higher than average expenditures and employment devoted to criminal and civil justice. These States in 1999 included Alaska, California, and Delaware. Other States, such as North Dakota, West Virginia, and New Hampshire, had both low crime rates and low justice expenditure (figure above).

Distribution of employment by level of government and activity

In March 1999 the Nation's civil and criminal justice system employed over 2 million persons, with a total March payroll of $7.2 billion (table 5). Relative to the entire employed population in 1999, approximately 1.6% of the Nation's labor force worked in the justice system. (See <http://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat1.pdf>.)

Local governments accounted for more civil and criminal justice employment than the Federal and State governments combined. Of all the Nation's justice employees, 59.1% were engaged in local justice activities.

The State and local governments employed 91.3% of all justice system workers. The Federal Government employed 8.7% of all justice system employees.

The distribution of corrections employees reflects State government dominance in that sector - 63.7% of corrections employees worked for State governments, followed by 31.9% at the local level and 4.3% at the Federal level.

Because law enforcement is essentially the responsibility of local governments, 80% of the Nation's police employees were working at the local level. State governments employed 9.8% of police protection workers; the Federal Government, 10.2%.

Throughout the justice system, approximately 58.7% of expenditures were for payrolls (not shown in table).

The Federal government spent less on payrolls relative to their total expenditure ($11 billion out of $27.4 billion, or 40%) than did the State and local governments (46.4% and 64.8% respectively.)

Police protection was the activity with the highest percentage of expenditure going to payrolls (64.7%). The local governments in particular spent 69.9% of their expenditures for police protection on salaries.

The activity with the lowest percentage of expenditure for payrolls was corrections (51.5% for all governments).

Employment by State

In all States, 12.8% of State and local employees worked in the justice system. Florida had the highest percent of justice employees relative to employees for other government functions (17.1%), followed by the District of Columbia. In 1999 Florida and the District of Columbia had the highest rates of index crimes in the Nation (see Crime in the United States, 1999, FBI).

The States with the lowest percentage of justice employees were West Virginia and North Dakota (less than 8% of all employees). These two States consistently have among the lowest crime rates in the country.

California had the most State and local employees (1.6 million) and the most employees in the justice system (over 220,000). Vermont was the State with the fewest employees in State and local government for justice (fewer than 3,000) and for all functions (approximately 34,000).

Per capita justice employment of all State and local governments was about 67 per 10,000 resident population in 1999. Per capita employment was lowest in West Virginia, where there were 40 full-time equivalent justice employees per 10,000 residents, and highest in the District of Columbia where there were nearly 140 employees per 10,000 residents.

Vermont had the fewest State and local sworn police per capita, with 15.5 per 10,000 residents. In the District of Columbia, there were 65.6 sworn State or local police officers per 10,000 residents. The District of Columbia also had the most State and local corrections employees (54.4 per 10,000 residents) followed by Texas (32.8) and New York (32.4). However, the District of Columbia had the fewest State and local employees in judicial and legal services (6.5) while New Jersey had the most (24.4 per 10,000 residents).

Definition of terms

Expenditure includes only external cash payments made from any source of moneys, including any payments financed from borrowing, fund balances, intergovernmental revenue, and other current revenue. It excludes any intragovernmental transfers and noncash transactions, such as the provision of meals or housing of employees. It also excludes retirement of debt, investment in securities, extensions of loans, or agency transactions. Total expenditures for all government functions do include interest payments on debt, but the justice expenditure data do not.

Expenditure is divided into two major categories
- Direct expenditure is all expenditure except that classified as intergovernmental. It includes "direct current expenditure" (salaries, wages, fees, and commissions and purchases of supplies, materials, and contractual services) and "capital outlays" (construction and purchase of equipment, land, and existing structures). Capital outlays are included for the year when the direct expenditure is made, regardless of how the funds are raised (for example, by bond issue) or when they are paid back.
- Intergovernmental expenditure is the sum of payments from one government to another, including grants-in-aid, shared revenues, payments in lieu of taxes, and amounts for services performed by one government for another on a reimbursable or cost-sharing basis (for example, payments by one government to another for boarding prisoners). It excludes amounts paid to other governments for purchase of commodities, property, or utility services.

Employees are all persons on government payrolls during the pay period including March 15, 1999. They include all paid officials and persons on paid leave, but exclude unpaid officials, persons on unpaid leave, pensioners, and contractors.

Full-time employees are all persons employed on a full-time basis, including all full-time temporary or seasonal workers who were employed during this pay period.

Full-time equivalent employment (FTE) is a statistical measure that estimates the number of full-time employees that could have been employed if the reported number of hours worked by part-time employees had been worked by full-time employees. This statistic is calculated separately for each function of a government by dividing the "part-time hours paid" by the standard number of hours for full-time employees in the particular government and then adding the resulting quotient to the number of full-time employees.

Payroll is the gross 1-month payroll before deductions and includes salaries, wages, fees, and commissions paid to employees as defined above for March 1999.

Police protection is the function of enforcing the law, preserving order, and apprehending those who violate the law, whether these activities are performed by a city police department, sheriff's department, State police, or Federal law enforcement agency such as the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Private security police are outside the scope of the survey.

Judicial and legal services includes all civil and criminal courts and activities associated with courts such as law libraries, grand juries, petit juries, medical and social service activities, court reporters, judicial councils, bailiffs, and probate functions. It also includes the civil and criminal justice activities of the attorneys general, district attorneys, State's attorneys, and their variously named equivalents and corporation counsels, solicitors, and legal departments with various names. It excludes legal units of noncriminal justice agencies, whose functions may be performed by a legal services department in other jurisdictions (such as a county counsel).

Corrections involves the confinement and rehabilitation of adults and juveniles convicted of offenses against the law and the confinement of persons suspected of a crime awaiting trial or adjudication. It includes the costs of operation and employment for jails, prisons, probation, parole, pardon, and correctional administration. Data for institutions with authority to hold prisoners beyond arraignment (usually 48 hours or more) are included in this sector. Data for lockups or "tanks" holding prisoners less than 48 hours are included in "police protection."


The justice data in this report include the expenditures and employment of the Federal Government, the State governments, and a sample of county, municipal, and township governments. Unless otherwise noted, data for total governmental functions and non-justice governmental functions also include the expenditures of special districts and school districts, which generally do not have justice functions.

This report is based on a compilation of data from the Census Bureau's annual surveys of governmental finances and employment. The survey sample was selected from the 1997 Census of Local Governments and consists of large units of government (including all 50 States) sampled with certainty and smaller units selected with a probability proportional to the unit's expenditure. The total number of local governments in the finance sample was 13,480, and the number of local governments in the employment sample was 10,574.

Certain limitations reflect the fact that the surveys from which this Bulletin was extracted are not designed to obtain data on specific justice functions. The sampling variability, or "standard error" for each of the justice activities is likely to be larger than for the major categories that the surveys were designed to estimate. Similarly, the standard error is likely to be greater for local governments than for State-local aggregates which are sampled in part, with certainty. Specific standard errors can be found on the Census Bureau's website (www.census.gov).

Differences in functional responsibilities from State to State and government to government can affect the comparability of expenditure and employment data. Readers should be generally cautious in comparing governmental expenditures because of this variation in the division of responsibilities.

The data in this report differ in some cases from those previously published in the Census Bureau's finance and employment survey reports because of definitional differences and the more intensive review procedures and data refinements used for this compilation.

The data here differ from other BJS series which collect agency-based employment and expenditure data because of collection methods, units of analysis, and data collection purposes.
These include -

Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics, Prosecutors in State Courts and various court statistics series, The Census of Local Jails, The Census of State and Federal Correctional Facilities, and the report State Prison Expenditures, 1996.

Financial data for the Federal Government were extracted from The Budget of the United States Government, FY 2001, Appendix. The historical finance data may differ slightly from the justice expenditure data found in the Expenditure and Employment Extracts because of definitional differences.

Federal Government civilian employment data were obtained from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Statistics for State and local governments were obtained by a mail survey including all State departments, agencies, and institutions, and a local central reporting office supplemented by special mailings.

Trend comparisons between the data in this report and reports covering data for 1971-79, 1985, 1988, and 1990 from the Justice Expenditure and Employment survey series are complicated by differences in methodology. These differences are described in the BJS reports for these years, and on the BJS website. In making trend comparisons, users should limit their analysis to one of the two sources:
- long-term trends for 1971-79, 1985, 1988, and 1990 from the Justice Expenditure and Employment survey series
- recent year-to-year trends from the 1980-99 Justice Expenditure and Employment Extracts data.

A more detailed description of the survey methodology (including sample design and sampling errors) can be found in the Justice Expenditure and Employment Extracts at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs.

*The State and local per capita justice expenditure and the average Index crime rate for the 50 States and the District of Columbia (not shown in the scatter plot graph) had a correlation coefficient of 0.635.

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