As the recession continues, South Carolina House subcommittees are garnering information from various state agencies about the status of their budgets and areas they may be able to trim in anticipation of another round of budget cuts that could be as much as 15 percent. Department of Corrections Director Jon Ozmint says his agency’s budget has already been cut to the bone. The Department of Corrections reportedly operates on a budget of $12,170 per inmate, per year. That budget is reported to be the lowest per inmate cost in the nation. In comparison, the neighboring state of Georgia spends approximately $18,500 per inmate, North Carolina approximately $23,000 per inmate and the Federal Bureau of Prisons close to $30,000 per inmate. Ozmint adds that state corrections employees experienced massive furloughs in 2009.
“I guess we are one of the few state agencies, less than 10 percent, who took mandatory furloughs across the board for everybody. The budget situation in this state is not going to improve, we all know that, and we are doing everything we can to live within our budget. Ozmint says the ever increasing inmate population is further straining his agency’s ever-shrinking budget. “If you are going to continue to incarcerate 24,000 people and you are doing it cheaper than anybody else in the country, there are such things that can be considered impossible.”
Ozmint says he will request that the department run at a deficit as it did last year.
Ozmint says his department is always seeking to develop cost-cutting methods to effectively run its operations without compromising the services they render. Ozmint says managing the budget gets more difficult as the prison population continues to grow. “We’re always looking for ways to operate more efficiently, but we can continue to incarcerate 24,00 people and live within the current budget so we will request permission to run a deficit again this year. I know lawmakers are working hard, as they did last year, to write a budget that will allow us that bare minimum we need to operate without doing early releases.
Ozmint says the corrections departments of many states have the power within the executive branch of their respective state governments to grant early releases for inmates in order to deal with budget shortfalls. South Carolina does not.
” We have no independent authority to make decisions regarding inmate releases. and frankly there’s no public will for that and in fact that is reflected in the legislature’s decision last year to not give the Department of Corrections the authority to grant early releases,” Ozmint says.