Anuradha Jayaratne

State Minister Jayaratne locks in argument on prisoner costs


As of today, the total number of inmates in prisons are 28,468. […] the number of drug-related offenders has increased rapidly. As per today 50.3% of the total inmates are people who were imprisoned for drug related offences. In some prisons about 65% are detained due to drug related offences [….] During this period, that is the last half of 2021 and the year 2022, just for the twenty-eight thousand inmates the Government incurred a cost of Rs. 3.9 billion on just their food. [….] the overall maintenance of the prison system is nearly 10 billion.

Asian Mirror | August 10, 2023



Fact Check

In a broader discussion on the burden of prisons on the Treasury, the state minister advocated for the revamping of the prison system. In support of his stance, the state minister claimed that:

(1) (a) the current inmate count stands at 28,468, and (b) a majority (50.3%) of these inmates are imprisoned for drug-related offences, a number that has been increasing over time.

(2) The annual cost to maintain the prison system is nearly LKR 10 billion, and LKR 3.9 billion of that amount is allocated for food expenses for 28,000 inmates.

To verify these statements, referred to the Prison Statistics of Sri Lanka 2023 report (PSR) and the official prison department website.

Claim 1(a): On August 24, 2023, at the time the data was first verified, the official prison website reported 28,655 inmates. The website provides daily updates but not numbers for past dates. This number slightly exceeds (by 0.6%) the state minister’s 28,468 figure, which is likely to be correct around the date of the claim (10 August 2023).

Claim 1(b): On the numbers imprisoned by the nature of the offence, the PSR does not report the “stock” of prisoners (number in prison at a given time) but only the “flow” of prisoners (numbers admitted). The latest available data for the flow of convicted admissions for drug-related offences is reported as 63% of the total convicted admissions for the year 2022. This makes it likely that his larger claim is also correct: that those imprisoned for drug-related offences make up a majority of the inmates.

Claim 2: According to PSR, the total maintenance expenses (recurrent expenditure) for the prison system amounted to LKR 9.8 billion in 2022. The PSR provides data on food expenses per prisoner, which totals LKR 176,115 per year in 2022, making up 40% of the average recurrent cost per prisoner. 40% of the total LKR 9.8 billion is LKR 3.9 billion, which is the figure mentioned by the state minister.

However, both figures cited by the state minister (10 billion and 3.9 billion) are for 2022, when the daily average population of inmates were around 22,000 and not 28,000 as in 2023. For the 2023 average figure he mentions, the total food cost per year would be LKR 4.9 billion—even if the average cost of feeding a person was the same as in 2022 (when food inflation exceeded 60%). Therefore, the state minister is stating costs for 2022, even though he asserts them as numbers for 2023, whereas the actual numbers are likely to be more than 30% higher. Notably, the 2023 numbers work even more in favour of his overall argument than the 2022 numbers he cites.

On claim 1 about the number of prisoners and the percentage inside for drug-related offences, the state minister’s claims are largely supported by the data that is available. On claim 2, he cites data for inmate numbers in 2022; even though he mistakenly states it as data for inmate numbers in 2023; while the data for 2023 will be even more supportive of his overall argument.

Therefore, we classify his statement as TRUE.

*’s verdict is based on the most current publicly accessible information. If new data becomes available, we will update our assessment.


Department of Prisons Sri Lanka. (2023). Prison statistics of Sri Lanka 2023.

Department of Prisons Sri Lanka. (n.d.). Statistics information.


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