Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ohio's Prison Austerity Plan

Will it save money in the long run?

Ohio has a massive budget shortfall and an enormous annual corrections expenditure. The state has announced a new austerity program that includes sacrifices by everyone in the state including prison inmates.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction will begin requiring inmates to pay $1 a month if they use televisions and radios in their cells. The idea will save about $250,000 a year, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

Inmates are paid an average of $18 a month for doing jobs in prisons - more if they work for Ohio Penal Industries. The money goes into an account, maintained by the prison, which will be tapped for the electricity charge.

Inmates will also be asked to make sacrifices at the dinner table. According to the Dispatch, the flavored, noncarbonated drinks inmates are now served are being eliminated. Menus will be modified to serve more of the "most-popular and least-expensive items," the budget plan said. Together, those will save an estimated $4 million over the next two years.

Inmates have orange and apple juice, coffee and milk available with breakfast but will get only water with the noon and evening meals with these changes.

Ohio has an $8 billion revenue shortfall. Included in the state's austerity plan is the elimination of the $75 given to inmates as "gate pay" when they are released from prison. This money helps pay for a bus ticket or a couple of meals after walking out the prison or half-way house's front door. That will provide a savings of $374,000 over two years. Based on those calculations the state proposes that 5,000 inmates will be released without gate pay over the next two years.

What if one-half of one percent of those released (approximately 25 offenders) commit a crime because they need to get a ride home or are hungry and are returned to prison for one year at $30,000 a year. The cost to the state--$750,000, double the $374,000 savings. Not to mention the cost of victimization for the woman whose purse is snatched, the home burglarized or the store robbed.

This is a short-sighted decision that sounds good in the newspaper, but potentially can cause more harm than good.

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