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Michigan Prison System Exceeds Budget, Again

In two of the last three years, the Michigan Department of Corrections’ (MDOC) budget has “blown through its caps,” according to state Rep. John Proos. A May 27, 2010 letter from Robert Emeron, director of the state budget office, informed lawmakers that the MDOC had exceeded its budget by $46.25 million.

Several factors contributed to the cost overruns. “One, the MDOC is run in an inefficient manner; and two, I believe our salary and benefit scales are out of whack with surrounding states,” said Rep. Proos. While states bordering Michigan spend $70 per prisoner per diem, on average, MDOC spends more than $90.

Proos blamed the Office of the State Employer, which negotiates contracts, as well as the governor’s office. He noted that since 2003, MDOC officials have received an average 3% pay increase annually.

Additionally, inefficiencies exist in the handling of prescription drugs and food service. “On average, prisoners have 10 prescription drugs,” Proos stated. The medications are handled by dozens of people from the time they arrive at central receiving to when they are distributed to prisoners.

The MDOC also has different menus in each prison. “Because of that we can’t harness the power of buying [in bulk],” said Proos. He believes the MDOC can save $6 million a year by standardizing its menus, but “the department has refused.”

MDOC spokesman John Cordell, however, said prison officials are looking into standardization. “The MDOC is currently piloting a program that would standardize menus statewide to help lower overall costs,” he noted. “We are seeing savings in the pilot and the department is committed to realizing cost-saving measures through supply chain management in both food service and prisoner transportation.”

Another reason for the MDOC’s cost overruns is the department’s failure to close the Standish and Muskegon prisons on schedule. “We knew that there would be additional costs as a result of keeping [those] facilities open past September 30,” Cordell admitted.
“The Department was working with all interested parties in an attempt to keep from having to close the facilities by bringing prisoners from other agencies into the prisons.”

The Muskegon Correctional Facility was saved by a contract with Pennsylvania, which sent 1,300 prisoners to the facility. Efforts to fill the Standish prison with “enemy combatants,” who would have been transferred from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were unsuccessful.

With Michigan enduring the brunt of the ongoing economic downturn, lawmakers are concerned and want answers. “I think [MDOC] Director [Patricia] Caruso needs to provide answers. She is ultimately responsible, as is the governor,” said Proos.

“There is a cost to doing business,” Cordell countered. “Corrections is unlike any other state agency in that we house over 45,000 people. While we have been able to control our population, there are things that are out of our control and that creates an underfunded situation. Utilities, fuel, health care costs, food costs, and employee compensation costs including overtime, step increase costs (wage and salary increases mandated by contract), and workers’ compensation all create pressures on the corrections budget.”

Meanwhile, prison officials are requesting an additional $28 million in state funding to deal with the MDOC’s budget shortfall.


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