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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.

(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.”

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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We don’t let lions, tigers, or bears loose to prey on humans. We keep them locked up in cages for life. Yet we routinely let loose the most dangerous predators on Earth - habitually violent offenders. Why? Because of an impotent criminal justice system. Impotent because of liberal policy makers who care more about these predators then our collective safety and well-being. Mind you, ever notice that these liberal policy makers live in wealthy areas with lower crime rates, so they are blessedly immune from the consequences of their decisions?

Imprison predators until they die. Treat them no better than our soldiers in the field. House them in Quonset Huts; feed them MREs; provide only the most basic medical care, nothing more. Take the money saved from a cheaper prison industrial complex and spend it on debt reduction and educational infrastructure in the inner cities.

Comment #1 by Christopher Lee on 2012 12 13

Let's find out what it cost per prisoner in the Arizona sweat tents, with Sherrif Joe.

He seems to be the only guy in the country with ANY common sense.

Comment #2 by pearl fanch on 2012 12 13

@Pearl Fanch - right on!

Comment #3 by Christopher Lee on 2012 12 13

This calls for a cost-benefit analysis. We have half the picture...the cost. What is the other side of the equation? What is our estimate of the benefit of maintaining the High Security Prison in terms of the lower societal cost in lives and property?

You can't have it both ways. You can't protect society from its most violent members without a monetary cost, unless of course you return to the medieval practice of executing all convicted offenders. And I am not advocating the latter; too many erroneous convictions in our justice system.

@ Pearl Fanch: we know what it *costs* Sheriff Joe, but what would it cost Rhode Island...what would he charge Rhode Island to handle our prisoners? This is, after all, a capitalist society and he could save Arizona taxpayers a lot of money by charging Rhode Island taxpayers a lot of money.

Comment #4 by Charles Beckers on 2012 12 13

RI is still a nanny state with their corrections system. Taxpayers are paying for murders with life sentences with no hope of parole. If people are so against killing these people, then send them to out of state jails and let them die there. As long as the permissives continue their policy of looking the other way, this nonsense will continue.

Comment #5 by Gov- stench on 2012 12 13

well stated mr lee .
steven brown from the aclu lives on a 2.5 acre secluded compound off of route 1 in
south kingstown .

Comment #6 by vin coia on 2012 12 13

It's time to privatize our prison system or at the very least send these prisoners to privatized prisons in other parts of the country. We will save millions.

Comment #7 by Anthony DeFusco on 2012 12 13

@Anthony DeFusco: The goal of private enterprise is to make a profit, to generate return on investment. Let's say you are the investor in the privatized prison enterprise to take over the Rhode Island correctional facilities. What is your business plan to provide the same services presently provided by state workers, while costing the state less AND making your profit? There is an economic difference between replacing an existing public system with a private system, which is what you are recommending, and meeting a demand for additional capacity, which is what they hoped to do when they built the Wyatt Detention Facility. BTW are the owners of the Wyatt Facility making a profit? If so, how?

Comment #8 by Charles Beckers on 2012 12 13

Oh yeah...sorry, the Wyatt Detention Facility is a "not-for-profit" business, so the only people making a profit on the facility are the bondholders who put up the cash to build the place and get a guaranteed profit on their loans (a bond is, for all practical purposes, a secured loan...the bondholders MUST be paid). The question still stands, are they making enough to reinvest the "excess of income over expenses" (which is what a "Not for Profit" calls its profit) in the facility, or are they just paying the bondholders and running the facility into the ground? Maybe we should privatize the ACI!

Comment #9 by Charles Beckers on 2012 12 13

The problem with the Wyatt Detention Facility is that it is in Rhode Island. Google Private Sector Prisons and you will find that the savings in states like WA, AZ, NV, OK, etc are substantial.

Comment #10 by Anthony DeFusco on 2012 12 13

Anthony call me. Lou--I believe you still have my number. It has been too many years and would like to catch you up on some issues.

Comment #11 by Miguel P. on 2012 12 17

Does anyone else find it sickening that it’s the guards’ union lobby that is pushing for longer sentences?

And using scare tactics just to ensure their job security and overtime?

I don’t know what’s worse, them, or those who these tactics work on

If those who profit off of societal ills have any say in shaping policy, we are all screwed.

Oh wait, why do we (the USA) have the highest incarceration rate in the world and the most people in incarceration then in all human history?

Sure! private for-profit prisons is the answer!?!

We can trade their shares in the market and some of us will get rich! Yay……

That will be the solution that diverts funding to addressing the root causes of crime, I’m sure of it.

WTF is wrong with all of you?

Comment #12 by Joe Shmoe on 2012 12 18

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