RI Second In Nation For Prison Inmate Spending

Friday, June 03, 2011


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Rhode Island ranks second in the U.S. in annual spending on prison inmates per year.

With a three-year contract with the RI Brotherhood of Correctional Officers in place until June 30, 2012, it is unlikely that costs will go down.  And despite a gradually decreasing incarceration rate, the cost per inmate may actually go up, according to RI Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall.

Only Maine pays more for the care and feeding of their prison population, according to the National Institute of Corrections, an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons.

At approximately $43,000 per year, per inmate, the total cost for the RI inmate population comes to nearly $150 million per year as of 2010, according to Wall.

Personnel Costs Run High

In 2010, the Adult Correctional Institutions had an average population of 3,300 inmates, down from 4,000 in 2008.

“Over 80 percent of our costs are personnel-related,” said Wall.  “This involves intense supervision at all our facilities, around the clock. And 80 percent of that is “direct supervision” employees (essentially corrections officers).”

Average salary for the COs is $56,610, and there are currently 829 on the books, 61 percent of the total DOC staff.  They work three regular shifts, with varied numbers based upon time of day.  There is also a shift from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. that is required for handling of visitors and inmate recreation.

Staffing Drives Costs

Although the inmate average population has gone down – along with recidivism – in the past few years, the requirements of fully stocking cell blocks with COs even with a reduced inmate population makes the per-inmate cost go further upwards.

“We have to have enough staff on a cellblock whether it is (hypothetically) 10 prisoners or 100, if the block is being used,” Wall said.

“We try to close housing modules (cellblocks) whenever possible, but sometimes we can’t make the most of the space,” Wall explained.

But there remains the need for constant security on basic staffing on cellblocks, perimeter security, and at check points.

Walking an Overtime Tightwire

Overtime work has also been a bone of contention in ACI costs.

Ellen Evans Alexander, the DOC’s assistant director for administration, said, “We do run on overtime, because we don’t have the full complement of officers we would like.  But a certain amount of overtime benefits taxpayers. But with 41 to 45 percent benefits, we start losing taxpayer dollars if the overtime amounts to enough to trigger double time (over 16 hours in a row)."

“Overtime is built into the system, but we try to keep double time to a minimum,' Evans said. “We probably want to be closer to a full complement of 1,064 COs, but we are trying to find a critical balance between overtime, and what is enough FTEs to feel we are operating efficiently, and (factoring in) things such as the costs of training and selection."

Three Major Reasons

There are three major reasons why RI is on the high end of the cost scale, said Wall

“One is because it is a smaller system,” he said.  (In comparison, the Connecticut corrections system houses 17,000 inmates.) “Because it is a smaller system, you have no economies of scale.”  The ACI also suffers from the same rise in expense of such basics as utilities and food costs with which an average citizen has to contend.

“Second, we are known as a ‘unified system,’” said Wall.  “We run a jail (the Intake Center), as well as a prison.”  

He points to Massachusetts as a place that has both local and county jails.  Because RI’s “jail,” where inmates await trial, is part of the ACI, it has to also handle the full functions of a prison, such as providing inmate clothing and doing medical tests, which drive up costs.

Director an Advocate for Guards

The third part is “our compensation is higher for our COs,” said Wall.

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“Why?  Because it is a strong labor state," he says. “But candidly, our staff deserve it. They do hard work. And in many states, if the job is low-paying, the turnover rate is high.”

“I want my staff well compensated,” Wall said. “I’m an advocate for it.”

He proudly points to the ACI’s safety record:  "Rhode Island is one of the safest systems in the nation,” Wall said.  “There have been no riots in the 20 years I have been here. In the 12 years I have been director, there has only been one escape from a secure facility.  And there have been no homicides.”

Separation Also Expensive

Another factor in high costs can come down to the separation of various categories, or custody levels, of inmates.

While it is obvious that male and female prisoners cannot be put in the same facility, you also have a jurisdiction such as protective custody, which requires a separated cellblock.

“You can’t mix levels, so you may have 48 beds, but only 30 inmates in protective custody,” said Wall. These still warrant a full complement of COs for security reasons.

Gangs a Special Problem

Corrections officials try to separate rival gangs to avoid violence, but that can only go so far in Rhode Island.

“In a large state, we could send different gangs elsewhere,” said Wall. “Here, we have to separate them within our institutions. That’s not the most efficient use of bed space.”

Smallness Works Against You

The confined space at the Pastore Complex in Cranston that houses the ACI is a problem, agreed Brian Garnett, Director of External Affairs for the Connecticut Department of Correction.

Connecticut ranked 15th in annual spending per inmate in the NIC rankings, and is now at approximately $33,000 per inmate annually, said Garnett. (Note: the NIC state-by-state comparisons are from 2008, the most recent NIC has produced.  Wall and Garnett agreed all costs have gone consistently upward in 2010.)  

But on issues like separation, it’s like “comparing apples and oranges,” because Connecticut has 16 facilities statewide that they can use for more efficient separation of groups such as gangs.

Female Inmates Run Higher Costs

Costs per inmate run higher than average for female inmates ($72,582 per year).  This is because the two buildings that comprise the women’s facilities at the ACI run what Alexander calls “an entire prison system,” which compacts all the needs and responsibilities of the regular system into a service for what runs to an average of 175 to 200 inmates throughout the year.

ACI Facilities and Costs

The state ACI facilities (with annual 2010 cost per offender) are comprised of:

  • The Intake Service Center ($35,653).  This is the maximum security facility that serves as RI’s jail for male offenders.
  • Minimum Security ($34,564). Inmates certified to work (unless medically unable) within ACI, on public service projects, or through work release.
  • Donald Price Facility-Medium Security ($53,521).  Has academic, vocational and treatment programs.
  • John J. Moran Facility-Medium Security ($32,909). Programs for successful return to community.
  • Maximum Security ($52,179). Inmates serving long sentences or transfers with discipline/behavior problems.
  • High Security Center ($157,033). Supermax facility for those who “require close custody and control.”
  • Women’s Facilities ($72,582).  The Dorothea Dix Minimum Security and Gloria McDonald Awaiting Trial and Medium Security Facilities house four categories of female inmates ranging from Medium Security to Work Release.

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