Maximum Security Prisoners Cost RI up to $200k Each Per Year

Thursday, December 13, 2012


Rhode Island’s most violent criminals cost the state up to $200,000 each in the 2012 fiscal year, according to cost-per-offender data released by the Department of Corrections (DOC).

Those figures include salary and benefits for department staff, operating expenses, medical costs, probation and parole costs and home confinement expenses along with overhead and capital costs, Tracey Zeckhausen, a spokesperson for the department, said.

All told, the department spent just under $190 million during the 2012 fiscal year, and for the High Security Center in Cranston (which houses inmates who require close custody, control, and security and has an average population of 90), the cost-per-offender was $200,215. For the average 632 prisoners in maximum security prison, the cost was $62,730 each. For those in minimum security, the cost was $47,679 per offender.

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(Click Here to see all the costs)

The figures come as the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RIBCO) fights to make the public aware of decisions made that allow violent criminals back on the streets far in advance of their expected release dates as long as they behave while in confinement. The issue remerged recently when the state’s Parole Board nearly agreed to released “thrill killer” Alfred Brissette after serving approximately 13 years of a 35-year sentence.

But some advocates say the cost of keeping offenders in prison can be a serious strain on the state budget. While the cost-per-offender released by the state figures in all costs associated with the department, Rhode Island ACLU director Steve Brown said the general agreement is that the average cost specifically for housing a prison is still between $40,000 and $50,000 annually.

“We have long been concerned that criminal justice bills imposing longer sentences don't generate the same fiscal concerns as other bills that affect the budget,” Brown said. “As a result, the DOC budget continues to rise while state social service agencies must continue to work with less.”

What Price Do You Put on a Human Life?

But with high-profile cases like the one involving Brissette or last year, Michael Woodmansee, have led some to argue that the state should spare no expense when it comes to keeping the public safe. Republican State Representative Doreen Costa said advocates who talk up the costs if keeping offenders in prison can be off base.

“When they say too expensive, what price do you put on a human life,” Costa asked. “I find this disgusting that money would even come into play here.”

According to David Mellon, President of the RIBCO, the potential early release of those who have committed extreme crimes is a result of what he calls a “careless Parole Board and a lenient Good Time law.” Mellon has called for members of the Parole Board to resign following the original vote to allow an early release for Brissette.

“This guy was going to be released by the Parole Board after serving only thirteen years because they were ‘impressed with inmate’s program participation and his documented plan for change,’” he said. “Now–only because of a public outcry–they decided to revisit this issue and hold a new hearing.”

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Changes to Good Time Law

Mellon said his union is leading an informational campaign to make the public aware of decisions made by the parole board. The effort will include online ads, a petition, television ads, radio ads, a direct mail program into targeted areas and a coordinated social media program.

The RIBCO campaign comes just over six months after the General Assembly made changes to the state’s Good Time law. Previously, prisoners could earned up to ten days per month off their sentence for not getting into trouble while behind bars, but the new law bans those convicted of murder, attempted murder, first-degree sexual assault, first- and second-degree child molestation and kidnapping of a minor from earning time off their sentences solely for behaving in prison. Those changes only apply to those who committed crimes after July 1 of this year.

“Serious crimes deserve serious sentences, and they shouldn’t be reduced without the prisoner doing something meaningful to reform himself or herself,” State Senator Susan Sosnowski said. “Ask any of the victims or their families, and they’ll tell you that the impact of their crimes doesn’t somehow lessen over the course of the years. Out of respect for their losses and suffering, we shouldn’t be reducing sentences for heinous crimes for prisoners who aren’t necessarily even doing anything to make themselves fit to come back to our neighborhoods.”

State Should Stop Being Reactionary

Still, others advocates say using extreme examples to make blanket statements about all prisoners is a recipe for disaster. Bruce Reilly, an ex-con turned reform activist who now attends Tulane Law, said the state needs to stop being reactionary when it comes to the prison system.

“The only way to view cost-effectiveness is within the totality of society; this must include education, health, prison, employment and the direct results on immediate family members, such as children,” Reilly said. “A poorly addressed problem can cost millions of dollars in the long run, rather than a more nuanced approach.”

When it comes to prison costs, Reilly said it’s important to note that so much of the money spent by Department of Corrections is for overhead or paying off the bond the state took out to build the ACI in Cranston.

Reilly said he understands why RIBCO would be pushing for more accountability, but said the underlying problem is that offenders need better support structures both in prison and when they’re released.

“RIBCO is fueling a reactionary strain of fear, and again, this is totally expected and understandable,” Reilly said. “It would be admirable if they were to make proposals that accounted for some of the above-mentioned, rather than continue to believe that nobody in prison is redeemable and all might as well be given a life without parole sentence.”


Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan.


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