One of the most promising ways to help solve the state’s fiscal crisis is to reform the state’s corrections system to achieve better results at less cost to taxpayers. In fact, Connecticut and many other states are already rethinking corrections beyond simply as a way to put more offenders behind bars.

States from New Hampshire to Texas and Connecticut to South Carolina are realizing that sending more people to prison and spending more on corrections hasn’t cut crime but has helped push state budget deficits skyward.

High Costs

State and federal government spending combined equals $69 billion a year to house two million prisoners. Connecticut’s corrections system budget has grown 280% since 1990, according to a study by the Connecticut Regional Institute for the 21st Century. It now stands at more than $700 million, almost 5% of the overall state budget. There are 18,555 people incarcerated in Connecticut.

Putting and keeping people in prison comes at a high cost. The average daily expenditure per inmate in Connecticut from 2008 through 2009 was $92.35—or more than $33,000 per inmate per year. That’s thousands more than it costs to attend the University of Connecticut for a year.

Most of Connecticut’s budget for corrections is tied to staffing and long-term union contracts. About 70% of the average daily cost per inmate from 2008 to 2009 went to the pay and benefits of corrections employees.

So how can the state reduce corrections costs?

Because of the built-in personnel costs, the only effective alternative, says the Institute, “is to reduce the prison population.”

And the best way to do that safely and cost-effectively is through the skillful use of parole, probation and community-based transitional services. Programs have to be carefully designed to fit the nature of the prisoner’s crime, ensure safety and provide appropriate treatment. 

But it can be done, and Connecticut’s prison population experienced a slight decline recently slightly for a variety of reasons, including more offenders being released into community supervision programs.

State Reforms

States are finding that carefully organized and monitored treatment, community corrections programs, and rehabilitation often work better and more cost-effectively than prison. Probation, for example, costs much less than imprisonment, with an average daily per-client cost of just $10.24.

Last year, New Hampshire enacted reforms that will lead to shorter sentences in exchange for parolees enrolling in drug, alcohol and mental-health treatment programs. Ex-offenders are being monitored more intensively, and parole supervisors have the power to impose, if necessary, jail time and other sanctions. The state expects savings of up to $10 million over five years.

Using a mix of re-entry programs and prudent use of parole, Michigan state officials say they have cut their prison population by 7,500 (15%) over the last four years—resulting in about $200 million in annual savings.

Illinois is working hard to keep at-risk young people entirely out of the corrections system. “Reploy Illinois” is linking youth to a wide array of services and supports within the home community as needs are identified through an individualized assessment.

In its first year of operation, the program saved the state more than $2.4 million and reduced commitments to corrections by an average of 33% and avoiding longer-term costs.

A package of reforms in South Carolina is reducing sentences for certain nonviolent crimes, restructuring some mandatory minimum sentencing requirements and lowering costs to the state by an estimated $400 million over next five years.

When projections in 2007 showed the prison population in Texas was expected to explode by 14,000 people in five years, the state enacted several probation, parole and treatment reforms.

These reforms have averted the anticipated growth in prison population and have saved the state $443 million–of which more than $200 million was redirected to strengthen probation and parole and to expand treatment services. 

CBIA Involved

CBIA and its members are working with the Regional Institute to promote innovative alternative programs such as the Malta Prison Volunteers of Connecticut, which helps find jobs for qualified ex-offenders.  

Santa Energy Corp. Chairman John Santa and CBIA Economist Pete Gioia recently met with Mike Lawlor, undersecretary for Criminal Justice Policy and Planning in the state’s Office of Policy and Management, to discuss ways Connecticut can continue pursuing corrections reforms.

More efficiency

There are other ways to reduce corrections costs and improve efficiency, says the Institute. Two major components of state government—the State Department of Corrections (DOC) and the Judicial Branch—are responsible for the correction, probation, and parole systems. DOC handles prisons and the Judicial Branch oversees courts and probation.

But the systems are plagued by “ [a lack of] cross-agency leadership, coordination and accountability, as well as inadequate information technology,” claims the institute.

While Connecticut has taken strides to improve coordination between the two systems, “much more can still be done.”

For more information about the corrections reforms and the Institute’s study, contact CBIA’s Pete Gioia at 860.244.1945 or pete.gioia@cbia.com.