The State Department of Corrections has gained approval to run a total of $39 million in budget deficit when the fiscal year ends in June. The Budget and Control Board approved the plan Tuesday. Department of Corrections Director Jon Ozmint says his department spends virtually less per inmate than any other state prison system in the country at just over $13,000 per inmate.
Ozmint says he was elated to hear the news because he says he has run out of options, “We found some areas on the margins internally where we continue to save money in medical expenditures and in farming, but overall nobody has come back and said I’ve found another state that’s doing it cheaper than South Carolina. So I think that’s why the board is willing to recognize our deficit.”
Ozmint says his only remaining options to save money involve closing prisons and releasing nonviolent prisoners early.
Ozmint says just as his department is the lowest in spending, it is also lowest in the nation in staffing. Ozmint says in 2001, the department had 7,200 employees and 21,000 inmates, in 2009 the number of staff is 5,700 compared to 25,000 inmates.
Ozmint says lawmakers are beginning to grasp that shift in the staff to inmate ratio:
“In recognizing our deficit what they’ve recognized is that we can’t have fewer people working in our prisons than we have. as our inmate population continues to increase, those inmates to staff ratios continue to get bigger, and they don’t want them to get bigger faster than they’re growing already. That really is what the recognition of this deficit is about.”
Ozmint says he is thankful that house budget writers recognize the budget shortfall his department is experiencing.
“The best piece of news we’ve had in the past few months is that the house ways and means committee last week passed out a budget that included $42 million of additional funding; basically the amount of funding for us to operate without a deficit next year assuming there are no further cuts and assuming the price of gas doesn’t go up to $4 a gallon,” says Ozmint.
The Budget and Control Board also approved the Department of Juvenile Justice to run at a deficit of $7.5 million for the fiscal year that ends in June. That amount may dwindle by $1 million as school districts repay funds they were supposed to pass on for educating juvenile offenders.