Thursday, December 13, 2007

More Inmates+Fewer Officers = More Overtime+More Budget Nightmare

Ben Barlyn gets rightfully frustrated over the incapacity of policymakers in NJ to deal coherently and effectively with the state needs in corrections sentencing there. I read stories like this about my former state of WI where I tried unsuccessfully to direct the state’s second (but likely not last) sentencing commission and look for hard substances on which to pound my head as well.

An unexpected influx of state prisoners in recent years has caused overtime costs at the Department of Corrections to soar, boosting the pay of some officers to six figures.

Overtime exploded between mid-2005 and mid-2006, jumping 27%, to $36.3 million, state records show. Overtime for the fiscal year that ended this summer rose to $38.2 million, the bulk of which was paid by state taxpayers.

The spike in overtime has come at a time when the Department of Corrections projected that the prison population would drop slightly. Instead, between mid-2005 and mid-2007, it increased by about 1,000 inmates.
The size of the prison population ramped up dramatically in the 1990s but leveled off in the early 2000s. The number of prisoners dipped in 2005, and Crawford said agency officials thought a trend was developing.

They expected to have about 21,500 inmates by mid-2007, but instead found themselves handling more than 22,700 inmates. The increase required more officers at prisons at any given time, leading to more shifts that had to be covered with overtime, Crawford said.

Uh, first, it wasn’t unexpected. We projected a 2.5%-3% increase for each of those years in the sentencing commission (do the math). If it was unexpected, it was because the Commission succeeded in making itself totally irrelevant to the entire policymaking apparatus. The Commission, in fact, had, despite the claims of the deniers and obstructionists appointed to it by the state’s Chief Justice and accepted by the Commission’s chair, been created precisely because the cost increases described here, cost increases that could have been put into effective reentry and prevention, better law enforcement and prevention, enhanced juvenile justice and prevention, were already seen as distinct possibilities. It wasn’t rocket science. WI has decided in its infinite wisdom to make offenders serve 100% of their sentences and then serve extended supervision that can and usually does lead to more prison time. You’re not going to get growing prison populations out of that? On what planet?

And then there’s this, from the least value-added member of the entire state legislature (and you have no idea how much that says):

Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), who works on corrections issues on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, said he's skeptical of the department's explanations.

"The answers they gave us didn't seem to quite add up," he said. "We feel there's something else going on, but we haven't been able to pinpoint it. It seems there's something not quite right. Perhaps they need an audit."

This nimrod is the one who pushed Jessica’s Law through the legislature despite the projections of needing 9 new prisons before it was done, saying he just didn’t believe that. Because on his planet, it’s not true. See, you screw stuff up as a legislator, the screw-up becomes apparent. First you deny, then you blame someone else. By all means, have that audit. If it’s done by a legit firm, it’ll cost you more, not less, you nitwit, because every indication is (including this story) that the WI DOC has been patching together solutions as best they can, and any legit authority will call for more and better remedies, which will cost money. But then, the experienced auditors will be wrong, too, won’t they?

I’ve said for years that the amazing thing about government in this country isn’t that it works so badly, but that it works so well given what we and our elected officials do to it. Remember that when WI creates its third sentencing commission to deal with these population problems (although I’m betting you won’t hear the word “commission” even if that’s what it really is because that would be an admission they screwed everything up with the first two).

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