IDOC Chief Stresses Reform to Reduce High Costs in State Prison System

Illinois has one of the most expensive state prison systems in the country, spending an estimated $38,268 per inmate per year. For years, Senate Republicans have sought reforms intended to reduce costs, improve safety and increase efficiency within the state’s correctional system—efforts the state’s new head of corrections says he intends to pursue.

In a memo to Gov. Rauner, Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) Acting Director Donald Stolworthy identified several cost contributors that he says must be addressed to improve efficiency and accountability within the $1 billion-plus agency. In response, Stolworthy indicated he plans to outline a long term “action plan” to influence positive change within the system.

Though security staffing levels are down in Illinois prisons—many say dangerously so—the Director indicated high personnel and overtime costs contribute significantly to DOC costs. Additionally, he said DOC is hurt by its failure to embrace time- and money-saving technologies. Stolworthy noted the Department is reliant on an outdated and inefficient system to track employee time and inventory, which he said “wastes staff hours and generates accountability issues.” He also pointed out unreasonable numbers of DOC personnel are required to simply open and close gates at some of the older facilities.

The Rauner Administration continues to stress the importance of long-term reforms in state government. The Governor’s budget proposal sought an additional $65 million in Fiscal Year 2016 funding to hire more prison guards in order to increase safety and reduce costly overtime expenses. This will be just one aspect of the final budget plan lawmakers will be negotiating in the coming weeks.

Chapin Rose

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