TABLE 21 Cost of Legal Defense per Case Filed in Court, 1987


Hours Spent on Case

Indigent Defense ($57/hour)

Percent Arrested (Table 19)

Cost per Incident
















Aggravated assault





NOTE: Of these costs, 48 percent are borne by governments through indigent defense programs. The remaining 52 percent are paid for by the offender.

actual time served in jail for recently released prisoners are available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (1989c, 1988f). However, no estimates are available for the average time served for persons sentenced to life in prison. Because the median age of prisoners convicted of violent crimes is 28 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1988b), a full life term could average 40 years or more. However, parole is generally granted in life sentences—usually after 20 years or less. Absent better data, we assume that the average life sentence results in 20 years in prison.

Table 22 computes the average time served by type of offense. The first column shows the average time served per convicted offender—including those who receive no jail time. The second column is the percentage of offenses that result in convicted offenders (taken from Table 19). The third column is thus the average time served per offense—the ''expected" time served for all offenders. The last column compares these estimates to a recent study by Kleiman et al. (1989) of "imprisonment-to-offense ratios," which were computed by comparing prison populations to the number of offenses committed. These two methods yield very similar results for murder and robbery. However, Kleiman et al. estimates are considerably lower for aggravated assault and rape. Although we cannot reconcile the two estimates, one possible explanation is that the imprisonment-to-offense ratio tends to underestimate the true time served in periods of rising prison populations (Kleiman et al., 1989:7). For this paper, the time served per offense estimates are used instead.

The cost of incarceration varies widely by type of facility and by state (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1988d:123). The distribution of state facilities is about 44 percent maximum security, 44 percent medium security, and 12 percent minimum security (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1987:6). Since we do not know the distribution

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