Reform Corrections

One of the biggest areas of state spending—corrections—offers opportunities to reduce costs, make government work better, and help people rebuild productive lives.

As Connecticut and most other states have found, putting and keeping people in prison comes at a high cost. Total expenditures for state corrections in the United States were an estimated $52 billion in 2011.

Index: Full Report (pdf) | How We Got HereStreamline State Government | Rebalance Healthcare | Reform Corrections | Modify State Employee Benefits | Expand Use of Nonprofits

In Connecticut:

  • Approximately 17,600 people are incarcerated.
  • The state’s annual corrections budget is nearly $700 million.
  • Connecticut’s corrections system budget has grown 178% since 1990.
  • About 70% of the average daily cost per inmate in 2008-2009 went to the pay and benefits of corrections employees.

The average daily expenditure per inmate in Connecticut was $93.29 from 2008 through 2009—which extends to an annual per-inmate cost of more than $34,000. That’s thousands more than it costs an in-state resident to attend the University of Connecticut for a year.

But the actual costs are much higher, says another study, when corrections employee benefits, pension contributions, debt reduction, and statewide administrative costs are added. Connecticut’s 2010 Department of Corrections budget of $613.3 million, said the Vera Institute of Justice, actually ballooned to $929.4 million when those extra costs were added, producing an annual per-inmate tab of $50,262.

Several states have been able to reduce their corrections costs and achieve better results through treatment,
community corrections programs, and rehabilitation. For many offenders, these efforts often work better and more cost-effectively than prison.

Connecticut’s prison population has been declining slightly for a variety of reasons, including that more offenders are being released into community supervision programs. At the same time, our recidivism rate has been decreasing. Our recidivism rate is 47% (with 56% of offenders rearrested within two years).

According to the Pew Center on the States, if Connecticut were to reduce its recidivism rate by 10%, the state could realize as much as $20 million in annual savings.

Best results in keeping people from returning to prison, says the Pew Center on the States, are “when evidence-based programs and practices are implemented in prisons and govern the supervision of probationers and parolees in the community post-release.”

Best Practices

Serious policy changes would not only relieve significant pressure on the state budget but, as several states are finding, also could lead to better results for many of Connecticut’s nonviolent offenders.

Success stories from the states include:

  • Michigan: A series of policy changes, including a Prison Reentry Initiative launched in 2003, has turned around its corrections system. By equipping every released offender with the tools needed to succeed in the community, the state has reduced its inmate population by 12%, closed more than 20 correctional facilities, and kept a growing number of parolees from returning to custody.
  • Oregon: The state reduced its recidivism rate by 32% between 1999 and 2004, a feat attributable to “a comprehensive approach to reform and a commitment to change that reaches across all levels of government—from the supervisory officer in the field, to the judiciary, through the state corrections department and up the ranks of legislative leadership,” says the Pew Center on the States.
  • South Carolina: A sentencing reform package approved in 2010 is expected to eliminate the need for 1,786 new prison beds by reducing incarceration of nonviolent offenders and by more closely supervising released inmates to reduce recidivism. Anticipated savings could reach $241 million.
  • Nevada: The state saved $38 million in operating expenditures by FY 2009 and avoided $1.2 billion in new prison construction by making key sentencing reforms, including expanding the number of credits inmates could earn for “good time” and the number of credits those on community supervision could earn for complying with conditions.
  • Kentucky: Legislation diverting certain drug offenders into treatment rather than prison and reserving prison space for violent and career criminals is expected to save the state $422 million over the next decade.

Take Action!Here in Connecticut, CBIA and its members are working with the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century to promote innovative alternative programs such as the Malta Prison Volunteers of Connecticut, which helps find jobs for qualified ex-offenders.

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