States wrangle with corrections budgets: criminal justice budgets challenge states as costs and inmate populations increase.

Author:Perez, Arturo
 
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Prisons are overcrowded, understaffed and aging. Add to that the rising costs of health care for prisoners, and it's no wonder that states are spending more and more on corrections.

California's 15.8 percent increase is way above average for FY 2004 to FY 2005, stemming from a new emphasis on segregating high risk prisoners, medical transportation costs and reforms to the probation process. And it could be worse. One-time federal fiscal assistance grants lowered its FY 2004 figures.

The average increase in corrections spending is 4.9 percent, but in some states, like California, it's much higher. Wyoming's increase, for example, is 13 percent, Maine and North Dakota have jumped more than 11 percent. Increases in Vermont and Minnesota are 10 percent.

States held 1.3 million inmates at the end of 2003, a 1.6 percent jump from 2002, according to the most recent Bureau of Justice statistics. For the past 20 years, the average annual growth rate is much higher--2.9 percent. Nationally, in 2003, the incarceration rate was 430 prisoners per 100,000 residents.

HEALTH CARE COSTS JUMP

Corrections ranks fourth in total allocations behind K-12 education, Medicaid and higher education. Corrections budgets in FY 200S total $31.4 billion--6 percent of general fund spending, compared with 5.3 percent 10 years ago.

Increases are being driven by health care costs--more disease, mental illness, substance abuse and an aging inmate population. Inmates tend to have higher infection rates for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis C than the general population. Providing health care to its 164,000 inmates is the fastest growing expense in California's adult correctional system.

"California's prison population is graying like the prison walls," says Senator Gloria Romero. "Health care needs multiply as inmates grow older and develop more chronic illnesses. It's the biggest price tag in the staggering $5.6 billion corrections budget--almost 20 percent."

Arkansas is trying to keep health care costs down. Recently it imposed a $3 co-pay on inmates seeking health treatment in an attempt to control the number of clinic visits by inmates. "Inmate health care costs," says Senator Dave Bisbee, "are rising faster than any other part of the corrections budget but that mirrors the increases in other health related programs in our budget."

Pennsylvania's corrections department is attempting to save money by bidding out medical, mental health and pharmacy services. It has also...

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