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Corrections Costs, Department of Corrections, WI Legislative Audit Bureau

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Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau

97-18 Corrections Costs, Department of Corrections

As prison populations have increased, the State’s corrections system has required an
increasing proportion of state expenditures. Between fiscal years (FYs) 1985-86 and
1995-96, when total general purpose revenue (GPR) spending increased 67 percent, the
average daily adult inmate population doubled and expenditures for the adult corrections
system increased 129.4 percent, from approximately $121.6 million to an estimated
$279.0 million. This figure includes $212.8 million in direct costs of adult correctional
facilities, as well as $66.2 million in department-wide costs associated with adult
facilities, such as training for new correctional officers and contract costs for inmates
housed in non-department facilities. Excluded are costs that are not related to
incarcerating adults, such as the costs of supervising offenders on parole and housing
juvenile offenders.
The Department of Corrections predicts both adult inmate populations and expenditures
will continue to increase into the foreseeable future. In light of this growth, legislators
have raised questions about the factors affecting the costs of the state corrections system
and how Wisconsin’s costs compare with those of other states. Therefore, at the direction
of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee we reviewed:

the Department’s adult corrections system costs by security level;


Wisconsin’s daily per inmate costs compared to those of other midwestern states
and Texas;


efforts to contract for corrections services in Wisconsin and other states, including
the effect of such efforts on reducing corrections costs; and


cost, access, and effectiveness of inmate rehabilitation opportunities, including
work and job training programs.

The State’s contracts to house inmates in Texas county jails have prompted questions
about how Wisconsin’s costs compare to those of other states. Based on a national survey
by the Criminal Justice Institute, Wisconsin’s daily per inmate cost of $53.51 ranks 30th
among the states and is slightly higher than the national average. To control for
differences in how states may report their costs, we directly surveyed four neighboring
states. After adjustments, Wisconsin’s daily cost per inmate ($50.93) was comparable to

costs in Iowa ($50.05) and Illinois ($47.95), and significantly lower than costs in
Minnesota ($90.92) and Michigan ($61.52).
Differences in the number of institutions in a state’s system, the population of each
institution, security needs, facility design, and the number and types of programs offered
make cost comparisons among states extremely difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, the
largest single factor in corrections costs is staffing, and some limited data are available to

compare staffing costs. Two factors have a significant effect on staffing costs: salary
levels and inmate-to-staff ratios. Entry-level salaries for Wisconsin correctional officers
are below both the averages for midwestern states and the national average. Wisconsin’s
overall inmate-to-security staff ratio is the same as the national average of 4.5 inmates to
each correctional officer, but slightly below the midwestern average of 4.8 inmates to
each correctional officer. This difference is equal to 4 percent of Wisconsin’s security
staff, or 121 officers. However, it does not take into account potential differences among
the states that would affect staffing decisions, such as building design and the level of
security at the institutions being compared.
Costs also vary considerably among institutions within Wisconsin. Average daily costs
are $61.71 at the maximum-security institutions, $45.56 at the medium-security
institutions, and $44.46 at the minimum-security centers. These differences are
influenced, in part, by the different staffing ratios used at each security level, with
1 officer for every 3.6 maximum-security inmates, 1 per 4.8 medium-security inmates,
and 1 per 5.6 minimum-security inmates. We were not able to analyze other factors
affecting cost differences among Wisconsin correctional facilities because the
Department has not standardized reporting and record-keeping requirements, and
individual facilities define and report their operating costs differently. For example, while
all facilities provide rehabilitation programs, only four report those costs separately.
Consequently, while the Department annually reports costs by facility, its facility cost
data cannot be used to evaluate cost differences or the efficiency of individual facilities,
or to determine the areas of expenditure that are increasing the fastest. This report
includes recommendations for the Department to standardize financial reporting
requirements for individual facilities so that costs and potential efficiencies can be better
As incarceration costs have increased, corrections officials in Wisconsin and nationally
have looked to privatization of services as one way of controlling or reducing costs. In
addition, because contracting can be an appealing option for managing fluctuating inmate
population levels, states are increasingly using contracts with private and public entities
as a means of expanding capacity. However, recent controversial incidents involving the
conduct of some private prison operators that house inmates from other states have
illustrated the importance of states’ efforts to ensure the accountability of the providers of
corrections-related services.

Until FY 1996-97, Wisconsin made relatively limited use of contracting, except in the
provision of specialized health care services to inmates and in contracts for bed space in
Wisconsin county jails. However, in the past year, the Department has significantly
expanded its use of contracting both for services within the Department’s facilities and
for bed space in other facilities. The 1997-99 biennial budget contains several initiatives
that will further increase privatization of corrections activities.
As of October 1997, the Department contracted for housing for 1,158 minimum- and
medium-security inmates in facilities it does not operate. Under these contracts,
943 inmates were housed in Wisconsin and Texas county jails, and 215 inmates were
housed in a federal prison in Duluth, Minnesota. The FY 1997-99 biennial budget
significantly expands the ability of the Department to contract for the housing of inmates
in non-department facilities.
In FY 1995-96, the Department spent approximately $8.3 million to house adult inmates
under contracts with Wisconsin county jails. In FY 1996-97, the Department began to
contract for prison beds in out-of-state facilities in Texas and Duluth, with expenditures
of $7.2 million for Wisconsin jail contracts, $2.4 million for Texas jail contracts, and
$569,000 for the contract with the federal facility in Minnesota. While Wisconsin’s
average cost for housing inmates is $53.51 per inmate per day, contract costs are
$39.96 per inmate per day under the Texas contract, $43.34 under the contract with the
federal prison in Duluth, and $60.00 under contracts with most Wisconsin counties.
However, comparing Wisconsin’s average daily cost to these contract costs does not
recognize differences in the security levels and programs offered under contract, or the
Department’s costs related to contracting for bed space.
Differences between contract costs and the Department’s daily per inmate costs can be
attributed to several factors, including differences in compensation for correctional
officers. Salaries of the Department’s security staff are higher than those of staff in Texas
jails and lower than those of staff in Wisconsin county jails. For example, after one year
of experience, excluding fringe benefits, a correctional officer would earn an average
annual salary of $18,000 in Bowie County, Texas; $28,800 in Outagamie County; and
$20,373 if employed by the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
Daily per inmate costs are also affected by the level of security required, the amount and
type of health care services provided, and differences in rehabilitation programs available
to inmates. For example, the Department does not transfer its highest-cost inmates—
those requiring maximum-security or inmates with health conditions—to non-department
facilities. The provisions of the Department’s contract with the Texas jails require that
Wisconsin inmates be provided the same type and level of programs and services
available to all other inmates housed in the jails. While some information is available on
the types of programs offered, the Department has no data on the number of inmates who
enroll in, or complete, these programs. Because the Department has only limited
descriptive information about the programs and services available in Texas, including the
specific content or intensity of rehabilitation programs and inmate access to them, it is

not possible to compare the programs and services available to inmates in Texas with
rehabilitation program opportunities in Wisconsin.
Also, while the contracted daily costs for housing inmates in Texas and Minnesota are
substantially lower than average daily costs in Wisconsin’s institutions, the actual savings
to the State are less than this would indicate because the contracts do not reflect the
Department’s costs for transportation, medical services, and contract monitoring. These
additional costs increase the actual cost of housing inmates in the Texas jails to an
average of $43.04 per day for medium-security inmates with no significant health
conditions; in comparison, Wisconsin’s average cost for medium-security institutions,
including all health costs, is $45.56 per day. Wisconsin’s average cost for minimumsecurity centers, including all health costs, is $44.46.
In addition to contracts for bed space in non-department facilities, Wisconsin also
contracts for services provided within state facilities. The Department spent
approximately $6.6 million on service contracts related to the adult institutions in
FY 1995-96. The Department’s contract for outpatient and inpatient specialty health care
services from the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics accounted for
$3.9 million of these expenditures. The Department is expanding the scope of its service
contracts with private vendors at its two newest facilities, the Prairie du Chien juvenile
facility, which it is authorized to operate as a state adult prison until June 30, 1999, and
the super-maximum prison in Boscobel, which is scheduled to open in August 1999.
Health care, food, laundry, and other services at these facilities will be provided by
private vendors.
While the immediate cost-effectiveness of housing contracts has been of secondary
concern because of overcrowding, cost-effectiveness should be of significant importance
to the State in contracting for food and health services at the new facilities at Prairie du
Chien and Boscobel. Our analysis of the Prairie du Chien contracts, as well as analyses of
the cost-effectiveness of health and food services contracts in other states, indicate that
contracting for such services does not always cost less. The Department’s contracts for
food and health services at Prairie du Chien are 21.8 percent higher than its average costs
for providing similar services directly at institutions of similar size.
To manage its resources most effectively and ensure that the desired goals of contracting
are actually met, whether they be cost savings or improved services, the Department will
need to approach decisions to contract for services in a more systematic and businesslike
manner. To do that, the State will need to establish clearly defined objectives against
which the contract services, costs, or performance can be assessed.
Once the decision to contract has been made, the Department will need to develop
detailed, enforceable contracts and adequately monitor the services. Based on our reviews
of purchasing practices in the past, as well as our December 1996 best practices review of
local government privatization of services, we have identified a number of model
contracting steps against which the Department should compare its own efforts.

While the Department has limited flexibility in controlling security costs, it has
considerably more discretion over rehabilitation costs, which accounted for
approximately $35.8 million in FY 1995-96. Questions have been raised about the level
of spending for rehabilitation programs, both to determine the extent to which such
programs contribute to overall incarceration costs and to determine the extent to which
they are being provided to increase the likelihood that inmates will make successful
transitions into the community at the end of their prison sentences. In this report,
rehabilitation programs include both work and non-work opportunities provided to adult
inmates, because both types of opportunities are provided for similar reasons: to reduce
disruptive behaviors that inhibit an inmate’s ability to live in the general prison
population; to reduce inmate idleness and the associated security concerns; and to
influence the behavior of inmates, and thus reduce the likelihood that they will return to
prison once their prison sentences are completed.
Work opportunities include institutional jobs, Badger State Industries, the prison farm
system, and work release; non-work rehabilitation opportunities include education and
treatment programs. Approximately 6,000 jobs are available to adult inmates. In total, the
Department spent approximately $19.6 million on inmate work opportunities in FY 199596. However, these costs were partially offset by approximately $16.7 million in product
sales revenues and reimbursements to the Department generated by inmate labor.
In addition to work opportunities, the Department provides a variety of other treatmentand education-based rehabilitation programs, such as basic academic education,
vocational education, alcohol and other drug abuse (AODA) treatment, sex offender
treatment, aggression management, and other programs such as parenting programs and
childhood abuse counseling. Most inmates with identified education or treatment needs
receive at least one non-work rehabilitation program during their incarceration, but
participation in non-work rehabilitation programs is voluntary and may be discontinued
or denied for disciplinary or other reasons. In FY 1995-96, total expenditures for these
programs was approximately $16.2 million.
As inmates enter the correctional system, they are assessed through testing and a review
of their backgrounds to determine their rehabilitation needs. To determine whether
inmates with identified needs are provided access to programs, we reviewed the records
of a sample of 400 inmates released during FY 1995-96 and FY 1996-97. Of the
334 inmates who were identified as having one or more rehabilitation needs, 38.9 percent
received no programs, while 61.1 percent participated in one or more programs. Few
inmates with multiple rehabilitation needs had all identified needs met. We also noted
variation in the availability of different types of programs. For example, for all inmates
released during FY 1995-96, 53.4 percent of the need for basic academic education and
41.8 percent of the need for aggression management was met, but only 30.4 percent of
the need for sex offender treatment and 31.5 percent of the need for AODA treatment was
According to staff in the Department, several factors preclude every identified need from
being met, including overcrowded conditions that exceed capacity to provide programs,

as well as the difficulty in meeting the rehabilitation needs of those incarcerated for only
short periods of time. While the Department attempts to track progress in providing
programs to inmates, many of the status codes it uses have multiple definitions. For
example, if an inmate’s file indicates a status code of "unavailable," it could mean that
the inmate is unavailable to participate in the program because he or she lacks certain
skills or is in segregation, or it could mean the program is not offered at the institution
where the inmate is incarcerated. Without more precise information, the Department
cannot adequately analyze the reasons rehabilitation needs are met or not met, and it is
hampered in making the most effective use of existing resources.
We also noted the Department has not directly evaluated the effectiveness of its
programs. Because the array of programs offered by the Department is similar to that of
many other states, we reviewed 11 national studies on the effectiveness of rehabilitation
and treatment programs and interviewed corrections staff from four other states. While
programs are provided for multiple reasons, program effectiveness has generally been
evaluated only in terms of recidivism. While we found some studies that concluded
AODA treatment and first-time sex offender treatment programs reduced recidivism
rates, other studies concluded non-work rehabilitation programs had no measurable effect
on recidivism. However, limitations in many of the studies’ designs, such as short study
periods and difficulties identifying control groups, restrict their usefulness.
To ensure the most effective use of available rehabilitation funds, the Department will
need to begin evaluating the success of each of its programs in meeting established goals.
While the Department has begun to establish some goals for two of its programs,
additional efforts will be necessary to establish goals and to monitor the performance of
all rehabilitation programs. We have included in this report suggestions to the
Department on how to increase the usefulness of its current plans for evaluating program
effectiveness. We have also included recommendations to the Department for improving
its information on inmate rehabilitation activity, so that the effect of specific program
decisions—such as standardizing curricula among facilities—can be evaluated in the

South Carolina --
4. How much does it cost to build a prison?
SCDC's recent capital improvements plan estimates construction costs by facility type, in
2003 dollars:

500-bed maximum security institution - $40 million ($80,000 per bed)
1,500-bed high security institution - $80 million ($53,333 per bed)
1,200-bed medium security institution - $60 million ($50,000 per bed)
256-bed minimum security facility - $10.6 million ($41,406 per bed)

March 09, 2005
Lawsuits Challenge Prison Conditions
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - Civil rights groups are challenging conditions in many of the
nation's most restrictive maximum-security prisons because they believe long-term
isolation breeds mental illness among inmates.
Chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union have filed lawsuits across the country
seeking changes to such prisons, many of which lock dangerous felons in isolated
confinement for all but three to five hours a week.
The lawsuits, filed in Connecticut, Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio and New Mexico, claim that
a disproportionate number of prisoners are mentally ill and not receiving proper medical
''The people who end up in 'supermax' prisons tend to be emotionally disjointed and
behaviorally have a real difficult time with themselves,'' said Dr. Stuart Grassian, a
former Harvard University professor who has written articles on the psychiatric effects of
solitary confinement. ''Putting them in these environments makes it phenomenally
Former inmate Bob Dellelo, who served 40 years in a Massachusetts prison, described
living in solitary confinement as ''maddening.'' Dellelo was convicted in 1964 for his part
in a jewelry store robbery that resulted in the death of a police detective. He later was
allowed to change his plea to a lesser manslaughter charge and was released on parole in
Dellelo, who now lives in Revere, served five years in a segregation unit at Walpole State
Prison as punishment for escaping from the Old Colony Correctional Center in 1993.
''I thought I was losing my mind,'' he said.
The ACLU's lawsuits allege that even the healthiest of inmates succumb to mental illness
if they are only allowed minimal human contact, recreation or programming.
A complaint filed against the Connecticut Department of Correction in August 2003 said
some prisoners at the Northern Correctional Institute are ''subjected to social isolation and
sensory deprivation that approach the limits of human endurance.'' They lash out by
swallowing razors, smashing their heads into walls or cutting their flesh, the lawsuit
Connecticut prisons spokesman Brian Garnett said many inmates at Northern are allowed
to participate in programs, such as anger management. Prisoners can also earn their way
back into the general prison population, he said.

A similar lawsuit filed last month in Indiana blamed the deaths of four mentally ill
inmates on isolated prison conditions at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility.
''These places are restrictive, oppressive and destructive environments,'' said David Fathi,
an attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project.
But those who work within the correction system say isolated confinement is a necessity
for violent prisoners who pose a threat to other inmates and staff.
Three correctional officers have been killed by prisoners who are now living in
segregated units in Michigan's Ionia Maximum Correctional Facility, said Leo Lalonde, a
spokesman for the state's Department of Correction.
''So I mean these people have demonstrated through their behavior that they deserve to be
locked up 23 1/2 hours a day,'' Lalonde said. ''They have shown us that they are not
willing participants to get the programming and to get rehabilitated. That's the thinking.''
Fathi estimates that in the 1990s, more than 30 states operated so-called ''superma''x
prisons - maximum-security facilities that keep inmates isolated for long stretches.
But in recent years, both Virginia and Michigan have converted supermax units to regular
maximum security prisons, and Maryland has announced plans to transfer most of its
supermax inmates to other facilities by the end of the year.
Connecticut agreed last March that it would no longer keep seriously mentally ill inmates
in the segregation program unless the state deems it absolutely necessary. The agreement
has not been put into effect because the two sides are still deciding how to monitor
compliance. A federal judge must also approve the agreement.
Charles Cabone, a human rights attorney in California, attributes the trend to the hefty
price tag that comes with such restrictive prisons. He said they tend to be much more
expensive since paid employees maintain the facility instead of inmates and prison
trusties. The California Prison Focus organization estimates that a super maximumsecurity prison in California costs $57,000 per prisoner per year, compared to $26,000
per inmate in a regular prison.
''There's also going to be a cost increase because of all these mental health issues,''
Cabone said. ''It costs money to take care of these prisoners.''
Daily Hampshire Gazette, Northampton, MA
On the Net:

Cost of Supervision
Fiscal Year 2000-2001
Cost of Prison Incarceration
At the start of 2002, North Carolina's prison system consisted of 76 prison units of various sizes
with six of the units having a standard operating capacity of less than 100 inmates. The three
smallest units - Wilmington, Blue Ridge, Black Mountain, and Union - had average daily
populations of 35, 60 and 72 respectively. The two largest facilities, North Carolina Correctional
Institution for Women and Central Prison each held more than 1,000 inmates. The state's legacy
of small prisons comes from its history. Most prisons were built during the Depression years when
the state assumed responsibility from the counties for housing prison road crews.
This legacy, coupled with the large number of small prison units, is what drives up the cost of
North Carolina's prison system. For example, the Fiscal Year 2000-2001 per inmate daily
operating cost of the medium security prison unit at Cleveland County (avg. daily population 122)
was $75.01 per inmate per day compared to the $56.62 per inmate daily operating cost of the
medium security unit at Brown Creek, a newer prison with a daily average of 834 inmates. Thus,
it is readily apparent that the economy of scale spreads out the fixed operating costs in larger
units operated by the Division of Prisons and lowers the per inmate average daily operating
During the 1990's the NC Department of Correction has carried out an extensive program of
prison consolidation, building and opening newer and larger prisons and closing many of the
small, outdated prisons with high costs of supervision. In early 2001, construction was beginning
on three new 1,000 cell close custody prisons in Alexander, Scotland and Anson counties.
Costs by prison security level
The system wide average operational cost for housing inmates in North Carolina prisons in Fiscal
Year 2000-2001 was $63.43 per day.
FY 2000-2001
close custody


medium custody


minimum custody




With the recent closings of many small prisons, the differences in supervision costs between
prisons have narrowed considerably. In 2000-2001 facilities that house close custody inmates
ranged in cost from $98.74 per day per inmate at Caledonia Correctional Institution (average
population 542) to $68.16 for Southern Correctional Institution (average population 721). For
medium custody, the costs ranged from $82.52 per day at Piedmont Correctional Institution
(average population 696) to $53.73 at Craggy Correctional Center (average population 402 ).
Minimum security facilities ranged from $110.82 at Scotland Correctional Center (average
population 61) to $31.28 at Charlotte Correctional Center (average population 243). The state's
only maximum security institution, Central Prison in Raleigh (average population 1,009), operated
at a cost of $104.44 per inmate per day.

FY2005 costs of adult offender sanctions
Georgia Department of Corrections
December 2005

Cost per Bed

Capital Outlay (construction) Costs
Capital Outlay (construction) Costs

Minimum security prison
One dormitory (double bunks)
Medium security prison
Four general population cellblocks (double bunks)
One special management unit (single bunks)
One dormitory (double bunks)
Close security prison
Three close units (double bunks)
One dormitory (double bunks)
One max security unit (single bunks)
Maximum security prison
Two maximum security cellblocks (single bunks)



TEXAS – fiscal report re prisons, “Reduce Prison Operating Costs Through Improved
Unit Design and Electronic Security Devices”
Fiscal Impact
For every planned maximum-security bed that could be replaced with a new mediumsecurity bed, the state could save $10,000. On a 2,250-bed unit, the amount saved would
be $22.5 million in general obligation bonds, which would not have to be issued. The
estimated annual operating savings, at a minimum, would be more than $2,100 per bed
changed from maximum to medium security.
The average annual cost for housing an inmate in a state prison is about $22,000; at SCI
Greene, it is $22,940. Department of Corrections officials said figures weren't available
for the average cost of its maximum-security inmates, but nationwide, a maximumsecurity facility costs $50,000 per prisoner per year or more -- more than tuition at some
of the nation's best universities.


The MA Department of Correction (DOC) by the
prepared by: Angela Antoniewicz
August 2004
(The Governor’s Commission on Corrections Reform Report (June, 2004) contains a
wealth of statistics, many more than can be presented on two pages. Some of the more
extreme numbers are without context or with incomplete context, making their
significance questionable. This sheet uses those statistics for which a context exists, or
can be provided).
Number of minimum-security facilities in operation before June 2002: 10
Number of minimum-security facilities in operation today: 5
Number of minimum-security and pre-release beds lost due to facilities closing
since June 2002: 632
Massachusetts’ rank in staff-to-inmate ratio in the nation: 2nd (1:2)
Federal prison staff-to-inmate ratio: 1:4.3
Increase in staffing expenditures since 1995, adjusting for inflation: 29% ($200 to
$312 million)
Average time served in Massachusetts (MA) state prison: 5 years
Average cost of incarcerating offenders in MA: $43,000 per person per year
Cost of housing a maximum-security inmate in MA annually: $48,000
Michigan, 2001
Table 1
Average Costs of Incarcerating a Prisoner for
Each Security Classification Level Based on
Gross Appropriation FY 1999-2000

Level I
Level II
Level III
Level IV
Level V & VI
Department of Corrections, “Average
Costs by Type of Supervision, Gross
Appropriation, FY 2000"
Oklahoma 2005

Projected Operating Costs For
Fiscal Year 2005 At Institutions Operated
By The Oklahoma Department of Corrections
FY 2005 Budgeted
Operating Cost
Maximum Security
$53.18 per day
Medium Security (Proposed Facility)
$58.69 per day
Medium Security - Male
$45.14 per day
Medium Security - Female
$47.16 per day
Minimum Security – Male
$42.80 per day
Minimum Security – Female
$37.27 per day
Community Corrections
$40.43 per day
Work Centers
$31.11 per day
Kentucky 2002-2003 (per diem / annual per bed)
Maximum Security - KSP
Medium Security - Private & Public
(excluding KSR, KCIW, LLCC)
Medium Security - Public Only
(excluding KSR, KCIW, LLCC)
Minimum Security- State Only
Extraordinary Facilities
Minimum Security - Private & Public
Colorado (current)
The average cost of incarcerating inmates at the Colorado State Penitentiary, including
death row inmates, is $103.58 per day. The Colorado State Penitentiary is a Security
Level V facility (maximum security) with a mission of incarcerating high-risk offenders.
Due to heightened security requirements and increased staffing needs, the associated
costs are higher than a lower security facility.
MDOC’s FY 2001 costs per inmate day for individual security classifications in a 1,000bed facility were as follows: minimum security, $38.71; medium security, $42.93; and
maximum security, $66.62. MDOC’s FY 2001 costs per inmate day for security
classifications in a 500-bed psychiatric correctional facility were $55.00 for medium
security and $70.10 for maximum security.