With a state budget deadline looming, ideas for cutting spending must move quickly from “what if” to “how to.” That’s what businesses and all taxpayers in Connecticut are looking for as they face a potential $1.5 billion in tax increases to help close the state’s $3.2 billion budget deficit.

Governor Malloy and some state lawmakers are saying they want a vote on a new, two-year budget by May 6. The governor’s proposal is a good foundation for closing the huge budget gap, but tax increases should be a method of last resort--so more needs to be done to cut state spending

Going deeper on spending cuts and ways to consolidate and streamline state government will help reduce the size and scope of the tax package legislators are considering—and help restore business confidence.

One of the biggest areas of state spending—the corrections system—offers opportunities both for cutting spending and making government work better, says the Connecticut Regional Institute for the 21st Century. As Connecticut and other states have found, sending more people to prison and spending more on corrections hasn’t cut crime but has made our state budget deficit bigger.

The average daily cost per inmate in Connecticut from 2008 through 2009 was $92.35—or more than $33,000 per inmate per year, thousands more than it costs to attend the University of Connecticut. 

For many nonviolent offenders, lower-cost treatment, community corrections programs and rehabilitation work better and more cost-effectively than prison. One of the reasons Connecticut’s prison population has been declining is that more offenders are being released into quality community supervision programs.

On the right track

Connecticut is on the right track but needs to accelerate its efforts. Our economic recovery is too fragile to risk tax increases that could be avoided with more budget adjustments by the legislature.

Expanding the use of the qualified private, nonprofit agencies can provide these and other public services at less cost and with more effectiveness than traditional corrections approaches. 

For example, using a mix of re-entry programs and prudent use of parole, Michigan has cut its prison population by 7,500 (15%) over the last four years—resulting in about $200 million in annual savings.

Probation and treatment reforms in Texas have saved the state $443 million and averted an impending crisis in prison population growth.

When the Kansas state legislature turned to a range of programs—such as education, drug treatment, and supportive housing—to help offenders reintegrate into society, the number of ex-offenders returning to prison reportedly dropped by 16% from 2007 to 2009.

Practical ideas

Many changes, recommended by the  Regional Institute and others, could be accomplished administratively in Connecticut, but putting them into the state budget will increase their urgency and accountability. Here are some practical ideas:

  • Expand the use of nonprofit, character-based programs (such as those used in the women’s prison in Niantic) to the system’s male population. These programs have been able to reduce recidivism significantly and help clients achieve more productive lives.
  • Employ proven re-entry programs for those who have been incarcerated for two or fewer years. 
  • Reform job classifications so that corrections personnel who do not have daily or frequent interactions with inmates are correctly classified as performing nonhazardous duty, rather than the more highly compensated (wages and benefits) hazardous duty.
  • Reform work rules to avoid encouraging a greater use of overtime (such as the five-days-on, three-days-off schedule for corrections personnel) that increase costs and decrease effectiveness.
  • Reform medical retirement benefits to increase the threshold number of years of service for those in hazardous duty (as the state of Massachusetts has done).

These and other reforms are among many identified by the Institute and others that should be implemented by state government, both for the cost savings, and the opportunity to get better results.

For more information, contact CBIA’s Pete Gioia at 860.244.1945 or pete.gioia@cbia.com.