Despite revenue slump, Corrections asks for more

DOVER — There isn’t much room to cut from the Department of Correction budget; rather, Commissioner Carl Danberg said, the department desperately needs an increase in funding to address critical needs such as medical care and construction to alleviate overcrowding

In presenting the department’s budget request to the Office of Management and Budget, Danberg said Monday that officials are considering reorganizing the agency to save money. That effort could include eliminating programs, but he declined to list specific programs that could be cut.

This year’s state budget-drafting process is particularly challenging because of the state’s declining revenues. Last week, revised revenue estimates prompted Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to ask department heads to cut 7 percent from their current operating budgets and 15 percent from their proposals for next year.

The Department of Correction requested a total of $217.8 million for next year, an increase of $12.7 million from the current operating budget.

Because the bulk of the corrections budget is personnel, Danberg said, it is difficult to cut enough costs to meet the requested budget reductions.

“We are drawing up a list of areas where we can save money,” Danberg said. “Significant savings can only come through restructuring.”

The type of restructuring, he said, the department is considering would require permission from the governor’s office and OMB.

Danberg said two requests are the top of his priority list: funding to expand the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution and getting permanent funding for three medical positions that were added to the staff last year.

The Baylor women’s prison routinely houses about 400 inmates, though the facility is meant to hold only 200, Danberg said. The problem with the women’s facility is compounded because transferring inmates elsewhere isn’t an option to alleviate crowding, as it is with men’s prisons.

Danberg asked for $3.5 million to expand the facility.

Last year, the Legislature approved the creation of three medical positions, Danberg said, but because the positions weren’t added until mid-fiscal year, the department did not receive full funding for the jobs.

Danberg asked OMB to include complete funding to allow the positions to remain and have a full year’s salary. The cost is an increase of $114,900 next year. He said he anticipates receiving the funding for that expense.

Danberg also requested a $5 million “placeholder” in the budget if incoming Gov.-elect Jack Markell decides to search for a new contract for medical services in the prisons.

Correctional Medical Services currently holds the contract to provide medical services to inmates in state prisons. A report released in July by an independent monitor found “lack of stable and effective leadership” and cited other problems with the company.

Danberg said the $5 million would allow the incoming governor to open bids for another company to begin providing the medical services, but that if the funds were allocated, the state still has one year remaining on the current contract with CMS.

Another request made by Danberg was $449,100 for a program that would automatically calculate sentences served by inmates. Danberg said the majority of wrongful releases — inmates being let out of prison before their terms expire — could be avoided with an automated process.

He said most errors occur during the transferring of sentences, inmates moving from being held by one court to another or moving from one sentence to another. He said using an automated system would remove the errors that occur and significantly reduce the likelihood that an inmate could be released early.

source: http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20081125/NEWS02/811250365/1006/NEWS

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