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Governor seeks to shut prison down

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  • Governor seeks to shut prison down

    Rell Asks Correction Officials To Recommend A Prison To Close

    By CHRISTOPHER KEATING The Hartford Courant

    November 7, 2009
    Gov. M. Jodi Rell has given correction officials three weeks to consider recommending a prison to close — a budget-cutting option she had once hoped to avoid.

    The move was never necessary during good economic times as the state was actually expanding its prisons. But as the inmate population has dropped and state tax collections remain weak, Rell on Friday ordered the Department of Correction to make its recommendation.

    "With troubling deficit estimates still a reality, it is incumbent upon us to thoroughly examine any and all savings in state spending, but if we again need the space and must reopen a prison, we absolutely will," Rell said.

    Closing a prison is a sensitive issue because it raises potential questions of safety for the inmates and a reshuffling of prison guards.

    The state's prisons currently house about 18,500 inmates — about 1,400 below the peak in February 2008. The population exploded by about 1,200 after Rell froze the parole system following the triple homicide in Cheshire in July 2007. Two longtime criminals who were out on parole at the time are now facing a possible death penalty in the slayings of three members of the Petit family in a crime that shocked the state and caused the legislature to make changes in the state criminal justice system in a special session.

    During budget deliberations earlier this year, Democratic legislators called for closing two prisons in an attempt to save as much as $200 million annually. But Republicans including Rell questioned the idea at the time, saying that crime was still too high in cities throughout the state.

    Now, though, the state's full-time parole board is operating efficiently and some re-entry programs have permitted criminals to get out of prison and resume their lives, Rell said.

    State Rep. Michael Lawlor, the longtime Democratic co-chairman of the judiciary committee and one of the legislature's leading authorities on criminal justice, said Rell's move is part of a national trend as the number of inmates has decreased.

    "What Gov. Rell said is what the governor of California said, the governor of Texas said and the governor of Kansas said," Lawlor noted. " New York has closed down a handful of prisons in the last three or four years."

    With an average of 1,000 inmates in each of its prisons, Lawlor said, the state could close down various wings of prisons to reach the equivalent of one prison. An entire prison does not need to be closed, he said.

    Since housing an inmate costs an average of $45,000 a year, a reduction of 1,000 inmates could save $45 million per year, Lawlor said. In a large system with thousands of employees, the turnover is so high that no layoffs would be necessary in the shutdown, he said. The prison system has 18 facilities and a budget of about $700 million a year.

    "Once you close off an area, you don't need staff for that area," Lawlor said. "All the money is staff. You don't have to lay anybody off."

    The need for overtime would also be reduced with fewer inmates.

    The all-time high population in the prisons was 19,894 inmates on Feb. 1, 2008, according to the correction department. That number has since fallen sharply, allowing the shutdown to be considered.

    Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant
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  • #2
    We pay 45K a year for these scum bags?!?!?!?! This world is f'ed up!

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