Correctional Union—Prison Closure Threatens Public Safety
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
The union yesterday announced a campaign to get the General Assembly to reverse the closure, which will save an estimated $6 million in this fiscal year and $12 million in the following year.
“If this prison is shut down, havoc will be created within the walls of the prison. Inmates will be misclassified. Certain inmates–such as gang members–have to be separated from others, which will become a problem if this prison closes,” said RIBCO President David Mellon. “Medium security inmates will be moved to minimum security, which is not a ‘secure’ facility with double fencing and towers.”
He added: “My members—the Correctional Officers—already walk the toughest beat in the state. We deal with murderers, gang members, drug addicts and sex offenders. We deal with fights, riots, stabbings and worse on a daily basis. The closure of this prison will only make our job more difficult.”
The closure was first aired as part of an initiative to cut costs in state government last year. Each department was asked by Gov. Don Carcieri’s administration to show how it could cut 15 percent of its budget. In the Department of Corrections, Wall said that could be done by closing two prisons—but, in testimony at the Statehouse, he said he could not “credibly advocate for the proposal.”
“When you’re running a correctional facility, it’s always useful to have options,” Wall told GoLocalProv yesterday. “The closure of Price limits those options.”
But he said the closure is not a threat to public safety. He said the department is conducting a risk assessment of inmates at the medium-security facility to determine who can be moved to a minimum security facility. Likely candidates include those about to be paroled and those without a serious disciplinary history.
Those that can’t be shifted to a lower security level will instead be moved over to the state’s other medium security facility. Meanwhile, inmates at that facility will also be undergoing an evaluation to see if any of them can be moved elsewhere. “It’s sort of a vast project of moving inmates where we’re comfortable housing them,” Wall said.
“I believe we’re doing it in a manner that is responsible, does not harm institutional security, and is not a threat to public safety,” he added.
A spokesman for House Speaker Gordon Fox defended the closure yesterday.
“The General Assembly is confident that the administration of the Department of Corrections has the tools and the resources to manage these efficiencies in an effective manner,” said spokesman Larry Berman. “It was an extremely difficult budget year, and the reductions made in Corrections were part of many consolidations and cutbacks that will impact most agencies throughout state government.”
Prison system not at full capacity
In terms of capacity, there is some room for reductions, Wall said. At Price, the maximum capacity is 360 inmates—although the prison is designed to comfortably fit 324 over the long term. As of July 1, however, there were 289 inmates.
Over the past month, the Department of Corrections has already begun winding down operations at the prison. As of yesterday, the number of inmates had been cut nearly in half—to155.
The closure marks the first time in more than a decade that Rhode Island has shut down a prison. The last time the state did so was in the early 1990s—when it was in the throes of another recession.
The prison closed at the time just happened to be Donald Price Medium Security Prison. It was later reopened to accommodate an increase in the prison population.
This year, Rhode Island will be one of 14 states closing a prison, according to Wall.
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