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It’s hard to believe that we currently have a projected annual deficit of more than $3 trillion, yet we rely on jobless taxpayers to support the $81 billion cost of mass incarceration in the U.S.

Do taxpayers realize how deep America’s pockets have to be to support excessive federal incarceration?

What most taxpayers don’t realize is that it costs much more than $81 billion to fund America’s mass incarceration bill because prisoners who are desperate to get out of a broken system file costly appeals to fight unfair, excessively long sentences.

Managing all those court appeals involves paying prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, along with many other court costs.

When incarcerated people are released after decades behind bars, many of them can no longer do their old jobs and need to rely on housing assistance and welfare to get back on their feet.

Taxpayers also pay millions of dollars for costs related to lengthy paroles and registries, which judges are fond of handing out.

The families prisoners leave behind for decades are also often forced to rely on welfare to make up for their lost income. Fathers could be providing for their families at a crucial time in their children’s lives, but they’re often stuck in prison for decades because of outdated guidelines.

Prison work is essentially slave labor, with inmates earning less than 20 cents an hour. This is not an amount that any self-respecting person could send home to their families, nor does it make any significant difference.

An estimated 16 million people in the country were on unemployment in the week ended Jan. 2, according to the Labor Department, and many people wonder if they can pay their own rent — and yet we are all forced to pay for mass incarceration.

The reality is that federal prisons are not about justice. They are about greed.

Excessive sentences are not designed to keep the public safe. They are designed to keep prison profiteers rich. Private prisons profit off mass incarceration and pay politicians big money to keep sentences long and prosperous.

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

David Azreal

David Azreal is the pen name for a writer whose pieces are submitted through the American Prison Writing Archive, a partner of the Prison Journalism Project. David is incarcerated in Minnesota.