Raimondo wants to close two high security prison modules to cut DOC funding

CRANSTON, R.I. (WLNE) – Governor Gina Raimondo introduced a criminal justice reform package that is included in the Department of Corrections’ (DOC) budget and the state’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2021.

The DOC received $267 million in funding in FY 2020. In the governor’s budget proposal for FY 2021, she recommends cutting the budget by about $16 million, to $251 million.

“The Department of Corrections is constantly challenged by having enough money,” said Patricia Coyne-Fague, the Director of the DOC.

In the proposed budget for FY 2021, Governor Raimondo recommends cutting costs by exchanging 24 high security inmates with other states, and then closing two high security modules, which are the most expensive to run. Raimondo estimates this will save about $1 million.

In 2011, the Medium Price facility was closed down, saving $1.1 million annually, and in FY 2017, the women’s facilities merged, saving around $8 million annually.

Director Coyne-Fague doesn’t think closing the high security modules is possible under the governor’s proposal.

“Transferring a true high security inmate to another state isn’t going to get us anywhere, because we’re going to get one of their high security inmates in exchange,” said Coyne-Fague. “If we tried to close high security tomorrow, I don’t know where I’d put those inmates.”

High security modules hold three types of inmates: the state’s most dangerous criminals, those with significant mental health issues, and those who cannot live in other units because of enemy issues.

“I can’t send them all out of state,” said Coyne-Fague.

Another part of the problem, according to Coyne-Fague, is that out of state transfers are on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The director believes there could be an alternative way to save money down the line.

“If we could transfer the inmates who are maximum or medium security inmates because of their enemy issue here, and get that level security in exchange, it’s possible that we would be able to send some of those inmates out and free up some of that space in high security,” said Director Coyne-Fague.

The governor is also looking to reduce healthcare costs in the prison system by $1.7 million by creating geriatric parole. Inmates who are 65 years of ages or older, who suffer from serious illness, and who have served at least 75% of their sentence would be eligible for geriatric parole.

The governor’s team estimates 24 inmates would be eligible for geriatric parole in FY 2021, with at least six likely receiving parole. Inmates on probation and parole are less costly than those in correctional facilities.

Director Coyne-Fague supports this portion of the governor’s criminal justice reform package.

“I’ve seen instances where one inmate can blow our entire medical budget for the year,” said the director.

Coyne-Fague said she believes the upcoming budget cycles will hurt. However, she does not think the DOC should lose funding due to the mounting pressure from protesters calling for the defunding of police and prisons. She said she’s actually on the same side of protesters and would also like to see more money invested in inmates for education and job training.

“With very rare exception, everyone here is getting out someday. We would like to see them succeed when they get out, so, we have to do everything we can to give them the tools to do that,” said the director.

The Rhode Island General Assembly is currently in recess and delayed its budget vote in hopes that more coronavirus relief money will come from the federal government. A special session will be held in November to consider the governor’s FY 2021 budget.

Categories: Cranston, News, Politics, Regional News, Rhode Island