Correction Department Administrators Call For Better Data Crunching Tools
After trending downward for years, the number of inmates in the Connecticut prison system has swelled in 2013. From January to October, the state prison population has increased by 857 prisoners.
In a monthly report from October, the criminal justice policy and planning division of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration wrote that this population spike cannot be attributed to the two most common explanations for such increases. Typically, when the number of inmates increases it corresponds to a heightened fear of crime among the public or an expansion in the state’s prison capacity.
“Neither, however, explains what we have witnessed this past year at the [Department of Correction],” the report said.
To illustrate the complexity of the prison system, the author of the report pointed to a monthly chart that attempts to track the flow of inmates moving in and out of the DOC. The chart resembles a complicated electronic schematic.
“Given the slow response to a rapidly, though steadily, increasing prison population suggests that the system, as it is currently configured, is simply too complex to manage effectively,” it said.
On Friday, Michael P. Lawlor, a Malloy advisor whose office generates the reports, said the concern is based on the Executive Branch lack of ability to adequately analyze trends in the prison system.
“We could do a much better job of managing this if we had more information and better analytical tools to look at the trends. The more you move in this direction, the better results you’re going to get,” he said.
Lawlor said the recent increase in the prison population was a reflection of a parole backlog caused by the implementation of reforms enacted after the 2007 Cheshire murders.
When the report was generated in October, the state prison population was 17,146. That is 511 inmates more than Lawlor’s office had predicted for that month.
The report speculated that the state could have achieved significant savings if it had better analytical tools like those used by the Judicial Branch’s Court Support Services Division.
“Were we to calculate the costs associated with incarcerating an additional 500 prisoners for several extra months, we might discover that incredible savings could have been realized had the state invested in developing the capability to understand the operations and processes of the state’s prison system,” it said.
Lawlor insisted such analytic upgrades could be paid for without contributing to a net increase in the amount of money the state spends on criminal justice. Crime rates have been in decline and he said he expected the prison population to begin declining again following this year’s increase.
“You can have a net reduction in your spending if you can adopt national best practices in the criminal justice world,” he said.
He includes the controversial Risk Reduction Credits among those best practices. The initiative was passed by the legislature 2011 and allows the department to award inmates credits that can be used to reduce their prison sentence by a maximum of five days a month, in exchange for their participation in department programs.
Statistics compiled this week by the Legislative Research Office suggest that the implementation of the credits has not corresponded to an overall increase in the number of inmates being released from Connecticut prisons.
Although there was a small increase during the year the credits were first implemented, the number of prisoner releases has otherwise trended downward since 2009.
“The total number of releases declined from 2009 to 2010, increased slightly in 2011, and declined in 2012. The slight increase in 2011 occurred in the number of releases at the end of sentences. It appears that the number of releases will decline again in 2013,” the legislative report said.