High Costs in Calif. Prisons Driven by Health Care, Employee Benefits
While a 2012 prison realignment plan has helped California reduce its prison population, it has not saved the state money due in part to court-mandated improvements to medical care, Reuters reports (Respaut, Reuters, 1/6).
Background on Realignment
In 2006, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson ruled that federal oversight of the state's prison health care system was needed after determining that an average of one inmate per week died as a result of medical malpractice or neglect.
To help curb prison overcrowding, the state implemented a realignment plan by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to send inmates convicted of lower-level crimes to county jails (California Healthline, 9/8/14).
While not the sole purpose of the plan, officials said the reforms could save the state billions of dollars.
Population Down, Costs Up
According to Reuters, the state's prison population has decreased by about 30,000 inmates since the plan was implemented.
The state initially saved money under the plan, in part by freezing hiring. By late 2012, the corrections budget fell to $8.7 billion, down by about $1 billion from two years prior.
However, the state has not sustained savings under the plan, according to Reuters.
This fiscal year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has had one of its largest-ever budgets at $10.1 billion, despite there being fewer inmates.
Meanwhile, the cost of housing, feeding and caring for inmates has increased to about $64,000 per prisoner annually, up from $49,000 five years ago. The state now spends about three times more per prisoner than it did 20 years, when the prison population was at a similar level, Reuters reports.
Reasons for Cost Increases
According to Reuters, the cost per prisoner has increased for several reasons, including:
- Employee benefits and salaries;
- Required prison health care improvements;
- Out-of-state private prison contracts; and
- The state's failure to close its most run-down facility.
Further, the state in 2013 opened the California Healthcare Facility in response to the court order to improve prison medical care. The facility costs the state about $295 million annually.
An increase in the cost of prescription drugs also could be playing a role, according to Reuters (Reuters, 1/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.