Massachusetts Prison Operations Costs Increases

BOSTON — The costs of inmate medical care and staff overtime are driving cost increases for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections even though the prison population is smaller today than a decade ago.

With a population of slightly less than 11,100 inmates, the state will spend almost $460 million on its prison system this year, an increase of more than 50 percent over 1997 levels, according to the DOC. A decade ago, lawmakers appropriated approximately $300 million to the department, which housed a population of almost 11,800 inmates.

On average, Massachusetts spends $38,000 per inmate, making it one of the leading per-inmate spenders in the United States , according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Staff shortages throughout the state prison system are one of the leading factors in recent cost increases, officials say. The prison system employs about 600 fewer correctional officers than 10 years ago, and is expected to spend almost $14 million on overtime in 2007.

However, the department is attempting to hire about 300 additional correctional officers during the coming months, officials say.

Despite the state’s prison population decline, the rising cost of medical and mental healthcare, programs and prescription medications is another significant factor driving DOC budgetary increases, officials say.

The DOC is one of the largest healthcare providers in the state and with approximately 25 percent of inmates suffering from some form of mental illness that requires treatment, the department is also the largest provider of mental healthcare services, officials say. The department spends about $75 million per year on healthcare, an increase of almost $20 million over the last six years, even though the prison system houses 700 fewer inmates than a decade ago.

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