Prison Social Workers and the Fat Budget for Corrections

With the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity having recently dipped into the topic of criminal justice in the state, this Katie Mulvaney article in the Providence Journal caught my eye:

The director of behavioral health at the state Department of Corrections lamented Thursday that the prison system is functioning as the largest psychiatric hospital and substance treatment facility in Rhode Island, and yet it’s staffed with only 11 social workers serving about 3,000 inmates.”That is our staff,” Louis Cerbo told the 19-member Special Legislative Commission to Study and Assess the Use of Solitary Confinement in Rhode Island. He estimated that on any given day 400 to 500 inmates in the system are diagnosed as having serious, persistent mental illness.

One has to ask: Where does all the money go?  Of the 40 states with data in a 2012 report from the Vera Institute for Justice, Rhode Island has the fifth-highest cost per prisoner in the country and the sixth-highest corrections cost per capita.  (That first rank is actually better than the Ocean State’s second-highest-cost-per-prisoner performance in a 2001 Bureau of Justice Statistics report.)

These complaints from government officials should never be heard without being coupled with the existing costs of their departments, placed in context of the country.  If they lack for some personnel or shiny capital purchase, the reason is almost always that they’re already spending the money on something else.

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