The Legislature's Joint Appropriations Committee is expected to vote Wednesday on the Corrections Department's $85 million proposed budget and a supplemental request to cover $2 million in shortfalls.
The department could overspend its current budget by as much as $3 million by the time the fiscal year ends in June. Corrections Director Gary DeLand said he is aware his isn't the only department with supplemental requests before the Legislature, and his staff has engaged in numerous daylong budget meetings to try to reduce the deficit."If we have no surprises and everything works just perfect, we could keep the deficit to $1.5 million to $2 million by June. A realistic look would keep that closer to $2 million," he said.
The department currently has a $2 million supplemental budget request before the Legislature that would cover the expected deficit. DeLand said he's been reminded by Gov. Norm Bangerter that Corrections is only one of a number of state departments approaching the Legislature with requests to add to their current budgets to cover shortfalls.
A continually escalating prison population, increased operating costs and cuts in federal subsidies has dealt corrections a triple budget threat that is the reason for the current shortage and will likely continue to play against the department's fiscal needs in years to come, DeLand said.
William Dinehart, legislative fiscal analyst, agrees that current trends show the prison population continuing to rise. His report in a recent audit shows that to reduce the population at the prison, the incarceration rate and length of stay would have to be reduced. Yet Board of Pardons decisions suggest the length of stay at the prison will "dramatically increase" in coming years.
Based on 1989 figures, the audit reports that adding one month to each sentence has the effect of increasing the demand for prison space by an estimated 75 beds per year with the added prisoner housing cost of $1.2 million.
And while the Board of Pardons is pressing the Legislature for money that would allow the board to set earlier hearing dates for prisoners, possibly cutting the length of time they stay behind bars or speeding a prisoner's entrance into educational and other rehabilitation programs, new legislation continues to add minimum mandatory prison time for some convicted felons.
For example, in 1985, HB209 set minimum mandatory sentences for sex offenders that has translated to a 1,000 percent increase in incarcerated sex offenders since then. The requirements of that legislation has cost the state $38 million since 1985, DeLand said.
The costly increases are not being used as a lobbying point with the Legislature when it considers new mandatory penalties. "As a citizen, I like the 209 (mandatory sentencing) concept," DeLand said, "But (legislators) need to know there's a price tag" involved when more people are sent to prison or when their sentences are lengthened.