(Pittsburgh) June 13, 2018 Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said that housing select County Jail inmates in alternative housing/work-release programs saves the County almost $10 per inmate, per day, a savings of more than $1 million per year at current contracted capacity. Expanding these programs to a quarter of the Jail’s population of about 2,400 would increase savings to more than $2 million annually, she said.
“The huge and growing financial costs of imprisonment, combined with its toll on families and communities, is leading more and more governments to think of incarceration as a last resort rather than the routine,” Wagner said. “The County is saving taxpayer dollars when we utilize alternative supervision, as well as better preparing offenders to return to the community.”
Allegheny County housed 1,274 individual County Jail inmates with one of four alternative housing/work-release programs during 2017, performance audits of these providers show. While in alternative housing, inmates are employed or receive job training; are tested for prohibited substances and receive counseling; and develop individual plans for their lives following release. The contracted facilities can currently house up to 335 County inmates at a given time. Inmates chosen to participate in these programs are identified as low-risk to the community by Jail management, judges, or service providers working in the Jail.
At a rate of $70 per day for each resident, the County paid about $4.68 million to these four providers in 2017, while recouping about $140,000 through a 20 percent assessment of residents’ net income for room and board. A 2016 study by the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics calculated a cost of $77.40 per day for an inmate to be housed in the County Jail, or almost $30,000 for a one-year sentence.
Jail operations cost the County almost $86 million in 2017, a nearly $8.7 million increase from 2016.
“The Jail represents a huge and ever-increasing cost for County government, yet also an essential one. We cannot cut corners when it comes to the safety of inmates or employees. But where we can see cost savings through alternative housing programs, which can also lead to better outcomes for inmates upon release, we should utilize such options whenever possible,” Wagner said. “Our reviews of the providers carrying out this important service by and large show good performance.”
Along with room and board payments, inmates in alternative housing also contribute portions of their income to court costs, fines and restitution; child support arrearages, if applicable; and personal savings for use upon release.
The Controller’s office periodically audits these providers to ensure the proper distribution of funds to the County and the inmates, and that policies and procedures in the providers’ contracts with the County are being followed. The recent reviews found only limited, minor deficiencies in contract compliance in areas such as billing, remittance of inmate income, compliance with protocol for escaped inmates, and maintenance of medication records.
Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, Renewal, Inc., and two facilities operated by The Program for Offenders, Inc. were reviewed by auditors.
“Monitoring of all contractors is essential, but is especially necessary when public safety and the welfare of individuals under County supervision are at stake. As in nearly all audits, areas for improvement were found. In these cases, the providers gave encouraging responses that indicated these areas would be addressed. Going forward, these audits can be a valuable resource for both the providers and Jail management to be aware of areas where oversight of these programs should be focused,” Wagner said.
A 2016 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that alternatives to prison are likely more effective sentences for about 25 percent of the current prison population.
According to the study, “Research shows that prison does little to rehabilitate and can increase recidivism in such cases. Treatment, community service, or probation are more effective. For example, of the nearly 66,000 prisoners whose most severe crime is drug possession, the average sentence is over one year; these offenders would be better sentenced to treatment or other alternatives.”
The full performance audits can be viewed here.
MEDIA CONTACT: Lou Takacs, Communications Director