It's cheaper to build new prisons and jails than to relieve overcrowding in penal facilities by releasing repeat offenders, a Justice Department study concluded Sunday.

The cost of building a new cell and maintaining a prisoner in it is just $25,000 a year, according to the study by the department's National Institute of Justice.The study said that new crimes committed by released prisoners cost society an estimated $430,000 a year in victim losses, police and court work and private security expenses.

The study of 2,190 inmates in California, Michigan and Texas said that each repeat offender given early release committed an average of 187 crimes a year. The institute treated each drug deal as a separate crime.

"Public debate has mistakenly focused on the cost of imprisonment compared with the cost of probation," said James K. Stewart, the institute's director.

"The correct way to look at the issue is to compare the costs of imprisonment to probation costs plus the costs of crime to the individual victim and to the community," he said.

The institute said sentencing 1,000 additional offenders to prison annually would have required about $25 million a year but would have averted 187,000 felonies that cost society a total of $430 million.

"Confinement is not too expensive when weighed against the price of crimes that would otherwise be prevented by incapacitation," Stewart said.