RI Prison Population Spikes, Will Cost Millions to Budget

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


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For the first time in six years, Rhode Island's prison population is on the upswing -- and the ramifications of a continued increase could mean millions of taxpayer dollars.

Rhode Island's annual Department of Corrections prison population report for Fiscal Year 2014 shows that the total RIDOC population was 3214, up over 3160 in 2013 -- but well below the peak in 2008 at 3860.  

SLIDES: See How Much RI's Prison Population Costs BELOW 

"I think it's been relatively status quo," said the Rhode Island ACLU's Steve Brown of the state's recent prison population in recent years.  "The last time the prison had a serious overcrowding crisis, the legislature passed reforms to mitigate the problem with 'good time'.  Then they undid it in the past few years." 

The annual report shows the average population -- and costs per offender -- at the state's seven inmate facilities, ranging from $39,497 per offender at the men's intake center to $182,396 at the state's high security supermax facility.

"The Governor's FY14 budget had estimated a prisoner increase of 1.3%, but had a budgetary increase of 4.3%," said RI Center for Freedom and Prosperity CEO Mike Stenhouse, noting the numbers came from the center's recent Spotlight on Spending report.  "The budgets keep going up, regardless of what the reality of there.  That's a symptom of big government."

Drop in Recidivism Rates 

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Who had been going to prison in RI -- and who currently is -- is the subject of the RIDOC report.

Of note in the report was the drop of recidivism rates between 2004 and 2010.

At 3-years post release in 2010, 49% of offenders returned to RIDOC with a new sentence, down from the calendar year 2004 cohort that reported a 54% 3-year return rate.

"We were honored this year to be recognized by the Council of State Governments Justice Center for our work in recidivism reduction. We are now looking toward the future," said Director of Corrections' AT Wall.  "Our recently prepared Five-year Strategic Plan focuses on goals related to even further recidivism reduction. Capitalizing on our past successes, we hope to assess and provide for offenders’ rehabilitative needs more effectively, both for those incarcerated and those on probation."

While a recent report showed that Rhode Island's prison population has increased 250% percent since 1980, according to the DOC report, national statistics show that Rhode Island is the third lowest in the country in terms of rate of incarceration.  

"Cost analysis aside, it is interesting that the state has the third lowest per capita incarceration rate nationally," noted RI Taxpayers Executive Director Monique Chartier.  "It is not clear, however, whether this is due to the legislative input of years of defense attorneys serving as legislators in the General Assembly or due to Attorneys General over the years being too willing to plead out cases (which would consistently result in shorter prison sentences) or whether it is simply that Rhode Island has an especially law-compliant population."  

Good Time Revisited?

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As was the trend nationally, Rhode Island experienced significant growth in its total prison population between 2002 and 2008. The most recent sharp rise was between FY05 and FY08, where the population grew 14.8%. However, since FY08 the population has seen a steady decline and fell 18% in the past five years. 

RI ACLU's Brown, however, noted recent legislative changes that could change that direction.  

"There's been a trend across the county in terms of looking at incarceration rates, coming up with efforts to reduce prison populations -- and it's been happening in red and blue states," said Brown. "They recognize the high costs of incarceration.  We lock people up too long, that money can be spend elsewhere."

"It was because of one case, that's how these major policy changes get made," said Brown, referring to the release of the "thrill killer" Alfred Brissette.  "A poster child for such drastic change in the other direction was the legislature passing a law making it a felony for someone to steal more than $250 of farm products.  They're passing very individual types of law that don't have any theory or overarching principles behind it.  They're making what were simple misdemeanors into felonies."

"Unless something's done, the prison population will continue to be on the upswing," said Brown. 

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Related Slideshow: Cost Per Prisoner in Rhode Island FY2014

The Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections (RIDOC) is comprised of 7 inmate facilities (5 male, 2 female), which are all located within 1 square mile in Cranston, RI. The State of Rhode Island operates a unified correctional system, meaning that all offenders (i.e., those awaiting trial, sentenced, and under community supervision) in the state are under the jurisdiction of RIDOC.

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#7 Intake Service Center

Opened: 1982 - Renovated: 1995 - Expanded: 1992
Average Facility Population: 1,030 (FY14)
Operational Capacity: 1,118 (FY14)
Annual Cost per Offender: $39,497

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#6 Medium Security

John J. Moran Facility

Opened: 1992
Average Facility Population: 1,047 (FY14)
Operational Capacity: 1,126 (FY14)
Annual Cost per Offender: $39,576 

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#5 Minimum Security

Opened: 1978 - Expanded: 1989 & 1992
Average Facility Population: 407 (FY14)
Operational Capacity: 710 (FY14)
Annual Cost per Offender: $53,462


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#4 Maximum Security

Average Facility Population: 442 (FY14)
Operational Capacity: 409 (FY14)
Annual Cost per Offender: $61,596

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#3 Women's Prison

Gloria McDonald Building

Opened: December, 2010
Average Population: 117 (FY14)
Operational Capacity: 173 (FY14)
Annual Cost per Offender: $113,977

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#2 Women's Prison II

Opened: December, 2011
Average Population: 37 (FY14)
Operational Capacity: 100 (FY14)
Annual Cost per Offender: $113,977

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#1 High Security

Opened: 1981
Average Facility Population: 96 (FY14)
Operational Capacity: 138 (FY13)
Annual Cost per Offender: $182,396


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