Options to Manage Growth in Prison Population

An analysis of Department of Correction, Board of Parole, and judicial branch (i.e., adult probation) data from 1992 to 1999, conducted by the program review committee concluded:

There are two basic options for inmate population growth management -- prison expansion and a comprehensive community corrections approach. This chapter provides a description of each model. The advantages and disadvantages of implementing each strategy and the key differences between them are discussed in detail below.

Strategies for Controlling Prison Overcrowding

Prison expansion model. The first -- and most obvious, but expensive -- option is to continue to build new prisons to accommodate any significant increase in the inmate population. This option has been, for the most part, the primary response to prison overcrowding in Connecticut for the past 20 years. As stated, the Department of Correction currently administers 17,600 prison beds in 20 facilities throughout the state and contracts for 500 out-of-state beds in two Virginia prisons.

Prisons are an integral part of the criminal justice system and along with the police are the most visible sign to the public of the state's response to crime. Incarceration is the most punitive form of punishment (except for the death penalty) the state may impose for a crime. Prisons allow the state to incapacitate an offender so that he or she may not engage in criminal behavior for a specified period of time -- it takes them "off the street." Incarceration also serves as retribution for the criminal offense committed by taking away the convicted offender's liberty.

The prison expansion model, most commonly associated with the "tough on crime" approach, is in concept straightforward. It simply requires new prison beds be added whenever the growth in the inmate population exceeds existing capacity.

This model is a simple response to complex problem of crime, especially given the public's demand for harsher penalties. It is not, however, an effective or affordable solution to inmate population growth management or a long-term strategy to reduce crime or recidivism. Criminal justice administrators and researchers agree that a crime enforcement model focused exclusively on prisons as a corrections strategy will do little to reduce crime, and thereby protect the public.

The prison expansion model has been difficult to implement in that there has been an almost constant need for new prison beds because there has been little focus on why the inmate population is increasing. The model perpetuates continued growth in the inmate population. For example, the Department of Correction has typically operated at or over its existing capacity despite a steady increase in prison beds; at times, as much as 110 percent over capacity.

Community corrections model. The second option for managing prison overcrowding is a community-based sentencing and sanctions model, which requires Connecticut redefine and reinvest in those agencies and programs that provide community-based supervision, treatment, and rehabilitation of accused and sentenced offenders and alternative sentencing options to the court (i.e., bail, probation, alternative sanctions, parole, and DOC transitional supervision and re-entry furloughs). This model will be referred to throughout this report as "community corrections."

Community corrections is based on a system of graduated sanctions that includes diversionary options, alternative sentences, intermediate sanctions, and prisons, which are the most intensive and punitive sanction. Connecticut already has established the framework for this strategy. The existing community corrections model is administered by various criminal justice agencies, including the criminal courts, bail commission, adult probation, correction department, and parole board.

Enabling legislation passed in 1991 (P.A. 91-213), established the Office of Alternative Sanctions (OAS), within the judicial branch. OAS is responsible for creating and expanding a statewide continuum of programs to supplement the alternatives to incarceration already available within the criminal justice system (i.e., probation, accelerated rehabilitation, education programs, etc). A primary goal of the program was to divert the "jail-bound" offenders from prison into another type of sanction option.

Also in the early 1990s, parole was re-established and subsequently its discretionary release and supervision functions were consolidated under the Board of Parole. State law authorizes a series of diversionary options for the court, and probation is a well-established criminal justice program. The judicial branch, parole board, and correction department contract with a statewide network of providers of community-based residential and non-residential services and programs.

Table V-1 provides a description of each type of sanction or sentencing option within the graduated system and provides examples of each. A sentence can be comprised of a single option or a combination of sanctions depending on the severity of the crime, the offender's criminal history, and service needs.


Table V-1. Description of Graduated Sanction Options




Diversionary Option

redirects pre-trial and sentenced offenders from prosecution and/or sentencing by dismissing criminal charges after successful completion of education, treatment, restitution or community service, and no further crime

family violence or dug education programs, accelerated rehabilitation, unconditional discharge, youthful offender status, community service labor program

Alternative Sentence

non-incarcerative option for pre-trial and sentenced "jail-bound" offenders that effects punishment, offers deterrence and restitution, provides rehabilitative services, and serves the interests of public safety through supervision, treatment, and community service

alternative to incarceration program, day incarceration program, Project Green, residential substance abuse treatment, probation

Intermediate Sanction

sentencing option for convicted offenders used as alternative to or in addition to incarceration that deprives offender of liberty, property, or both through supervision, mandatory treatment or services, restitution, residential requirements, and community service

intensive probation, parole, special parole, extended supervision parole


most punitive sanction that deprives accused and sentenced offenders of their liberty

prison or jail

Under this strategy, at the front-end of the criminal justice system, the decision is which offenders get sent to prison and which stay in the community. At the back-end of the system, it is which inmates remain in prison and which are released early. The supervision period -- either in lieu of or after prison -- is a critical component to achieving public safety. It should balance surveillance for misbehavior or criminal activity with treatment to impact the causes of crime (e.g., substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, etc).

Connecticut, like most other states, has remained singularly focused in funding and public policy on the challenge of providing cells for the growing inmate population rather than addressing crime and recidivism through alternatives to incarceration and diversionary sentencing policies and practices. The program review committee acknowledges a well-funded system of prisons and jails is necessary to achieve both the state's public safety and criminal justice goals. To be effective and efficient, however, the prison system must be only one component of the state's criminal justice response to crime.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Table V-2 outlines the advantages and disadvantages of each strategy for controlling prison overcrowding and reducing crime. There are some key pros and cons to each model, some that are unique to a single model, and some common to both.

The program review committee found fewer advantages than disadvantages to implementing the prison expansion strategy. For the most part, the advantages were symbolic. The disadvantages are more numerous, with most related to the state's allocation of resources. Moreover, it is a short-term approach for addressing prison overcrowding, not crime. Therefore, it does not offer a comprehensive public safety strategy.

The committee further found prison construction and especially renovation of existing facilities will always occur within any criminal justice strategy, but it should not be the first response to prison overcrowding.

The program review committee did find several real advantages to the adoption of the community corrections model. It not only provides a workable solution to managing inmate population growth, but offers a comprehensive strategy to reduce the incidence of crime and recidivism. It allows for punishment, rehabilitation, victim restitution, and public safety at a lower cost per offender than incarceration. Connecticut has the basic framework of a graduated sanctions system already in place.

The following is a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of each model in terms of their implications for: public image; public safety; management of the offender population; rehabilitation and treatment opportunities; costs; and siting difficulties.

"Tough" versus "soft" on crime. An advantage of the prison expansion model is its inherent link to the "tough on crime" approach. Building new prisons and keeping them full is a visible sign criminals are off the streets and, therefore, the state has an aggressive crime policy. Because of this, it has generally been easy to garner legislative and general public support for this strategy.

Proponents point to the reduction in the state's crime rate as a result of sending more offenders to prison. Incarcerated persons cannot commit crimes. There is extensive research, however, that concludes the reduction in the crime rate is caused by several other factors, most notably changes in the population within their crime-prone years (16 to 24), the booming economy and good job markets, and the decrease in drug use, especially "crack" cocaine. Incarceration rates have been found to have only a minimal impact on crime.


Table V-2. Advantages and Disadvantages to Prison Overcrowding Strategies


Prison Expansion

Community Corrections


Straightforward -- when number of inmates at or over existing capacity more beds added

Political benefit to "tough on crime" image

Costs spread out over many years

Few "public" failures (i.e., escapes, riots)

Framework of model already exists in Connecticut

Manages all accused and sentenced offenders in prison and community

Provides range of sanctions

Provides for public safety

Proven effective at reducing crime and recidivism

Lower total cost per offender


Focuses on small percentage of offender population (i.e., those who are incarcerated)

"Net widening" -- more low level, nonviolent offenders incarcerated if beds available

Often fails to provide sufficient offender rehabilitation programs and treatment

Short-term public safety strategy with negligible benefits for controlling crime

Lag time for meeting prison bed space needs (i.e., long siting and construction process)

Difficult to site a prison

Most expensive option

Viewed as "soft on crime"

"Failures" are more public

Often first target for de-funding primarily due to its poor public image -- it is under-resourced, under-staffed, and yet responsible for three-quarters of the offender population

Lacks a system advocate -- no single agency overseeing multi-agency approach

Difficult to site community-based services and programs, especially for special populations (e.g., sex offenders, mentally ill offenders)

Estimated Costs

$35,000 per year per inmate ($96/day)

$125,000 construction cost per prison bed

$4,000 per parolee per year (about $11/day)

$833 per probationer per year (about $2/day)

$20,000 per community-based residential bed per year

$4,500-$10,000 per community-based nonresidential slot per year


Offender Population

(as of June 2000)

17,466 inmates in-state

484 out-of-state

60,898 sentenced offenders in community

120,000 defendants on court-ordered bond

In comparison, the community correction model suffers from a poor public image. It has come to symbolize the leniency of the criminal justice system; or, in other words, the "soft on crime" approach. This option is typically viewed as letting inmates out of prison early or not sufficiently punishing them for their crimes. A disadvantage to the community corrections model, therefore, is the lack of political support necessary to receive funding or be implemented as intended.

The "soft on crime" perception is contrary to 30 years of criminal justice research that concludes there is a punitive impact on offenders under community supervision. Community corrections typically:

The program review committee concludes the crime debate should not focus on whether a strategy is "tough" or "soft," but rather on the effectiveness and efficiency of a policy for reducing crime and recidivism. Under any crime policy, whether it is aggressive or lenient, serious violent offenders will most likely go to prison, even if the correctional system is at or over capacity. Having extra prison space, therefore, makes more difference in the sentencing of the non-violent and less serious offender who might be a better candidate for an alternative sentencing option; typically referred to as "net widening."

Chapter TitleThe impact of the "tough on crime" policy on sentencing becomes clear. As previously stated, the criminal justice system makes more conservative decisions and narrows its discretionary authority. As the system expands and more beds come on-line, the court may send certain offenders to prison rather then order alternative sanctions or treatment simply because prison beds are available. A consequence of increasing prison beds and an aggressive "tough on crime" policy is a disproportionate share of prison resources are invested on non-violent, low level offenders.

Figure V-1 breaks down the 1999 inmate population in terms of their primary offenses, which is the most serious crime for which an offender is convicted and sentenced. Only 12 percent of the inmate population was convicted of a violent crime1. In fact, violation of probation offenses represent the largest percentage (27 percent) of inmate admissions.

Policymakers and criminal justice administrators have not yet recognized the importance of community supervision in terms of public safety and reducing crime and recidivism. Current public polling data on crime, however, indicate the public is more pragmatic about punishment options and less ideological than the current "tough on crime" political debate reflects2. The public appears willing to accept that punitive approaches (i.e., prison) alone won't work to reduce crime, and community-based supervision and treatment is necessary and effective at achieving these goals.

The program review committee, therefore, finds the General Assembly must redefine and reinvest in a comprehensive community corrections strategy to manage inmate population growth and reduce crime and recidivism.

The recommended model is based on a range or continuum of punishment options that provide graduated levels of supervision and harshness. Mandating this sentencing structure enables policy-makers and criminal justice administrators to maintain expensive prison cells to incapacitate violent and repeat criminals. At the same time, less restrictive, community-based treatment programs and restitution-focused sentences punish nonviolent and low level offenders, while holding them accountable for their actions and increasing their chances for rehabilitation. Ultimately, this model offers a comprehensive public safety strategy.

Public safety. The primary objective of the state's crime policy is to protect public safety, which can be achieved through means other than incarcerating criminals. Public safety is best served by a comprehensive system that provides incarceration for the most serious offender and supervision of offenders who are not incarcerated and inmates as they transition from prison back to their communities. Rehabilitative and treatment services must be provided within an institutional setting and in the community or risks to public safety will not be minimized.

The program review committee found the majority (78 percent) of convicted offenders are not sent to prison, but are supervised in the community. In addition, 69 percent of convicted offenders sent to prison are under a sentence of three years or less, with half serving a year or less. Inattention to the behavior -- criminal and non-criminal -- of offenders in the community misses the opportunity to intervene in a positive manner and all but promises recidivism and eventual imprisonment. Failing to provide, develop, and adequately fund a community corrections model invariably places the public at risk.

An advantage of the community corrections strategy is its comprehensive approach to ensuring public safety by distributing resources and attention to all offenders rather than focusing on the small percentage who are incarcerated. The community corrections model can offer a long-term strategy to reducing crime and recidivism by providing a range of graduated sanctions, including prison for the most serious offender. Resources are equally distributed based on punishment requirements, offender rehabilitative and treatment needs, victim restitution, and caseload.

The prison expansion model is a short-term crime strategy. Resources are focused on the small percentage of offenders in the most intensive and expensive punishment option -- prison. Under this model, a reduced share of resources and attention are typically given to the vast majority of offenders in the community where they pose the highest risk to public safety.

Management of total offender population. A disadvantage of the prison expansion model its focus on offenders coming into prison and "toughening" punishment by lengthening the period of time spent incarcerated, especially for serious and violent offenders. It fails to consider the cumulative impact of thousands of criminals who may also be serious and violent that eventually return to or remain in their communities.

Chapter TitleAlmost every offender sent to prison eventually returns to their community -- usually within less than three years. As previously discussed, most sentenced offenders (78 percent) are supervised on a daily basis in the community on probation, parole, or a DOC early release program such as transitional supervision or re-entry furlough. In addition, each year, about 120,000 accused offenders are released on bond by the court to await adjudication of their crimes. Figure V-2 shows only 22 percent of the sentenced offender population in 1999 was in prison

Obviously, Connecticut requires a comprehensive criminal justice strategy that focuses on the needs and risks posed by the total offender population in prison or the community. Until the criminal activity of the three quarters of offenders who reside and are supervised in the community is curbed, any real reductions in crime or the prison population will be difficult to achieve. Implementing a strategy to manage all accused and sentenced offenders is an advantage of the community corrections model.

Rehabilitation and treatment. The benefits of rehabilitation and treatment services for offenders are well documented3. Social intervention and treatment programs, particularly for drug and alcohol addiction, significantly contribute to reducing recidivism among the offender population who participate in the programs.

The Connecticut judicial branch conducted a longitudinal study4 of accused and sentenced offenders who participated in the alternative to incarceration program from 1994 through 1996. Overall, offenders sentenced to supervised community-based programs posed less risk to public safety as measured by new arrests than a comparison sample who were released without supervision after serving a prison term. Offenders convicted of drug or violent crimes -- typically the persons of greatest concern to the public and policymakers -- did better under community supervision. Offenders from both samples re-offended, but the rate of arrest was less for those who participated in the alternative to incarceration program than those who had been released from prison without supervision.

The Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council (CADPC) found treatment for substance abuse reduces criminal behavior, reduces the use of illegal drugs, and improves social functioning more cheaply and for longer periods of time than does incarceration alone. In its 1999 report to the General Assembly, the council recommended doubling substance abuse treatment capacity for the prison system.

The community corrections model again has an advantage over the prison expansion model. A foundation of the community corrections model is its ability to mandate offender participation in treatment and rehabilitative programs as part of the sentence. Failure to participate in or successfully complete a court-ordered therapy results in an increase in punishment (e.g., mandatory placement in residential program or prison). Typically, the prison expansion model does not require an inmate accept treatment services. The services are available on a limited basis, but participation is voluntary. Inmates who do not accept services are more likely to discharge from prison with the substance abuse, mental health, or other problems that contributed to their criminal behavior. This increases their chances for re-offending and poses a definite public safety risk.

Estimate of need for substance abuse treatment. The following is an analysis of the need for substance abuse treatment among the sentenced offender population, including those in prison and in the community. Because neither the criminal justice system nor the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services have conducted a needs assessment, the program review committee relied on substance abuse evaluations conducted by the DOC, judicial branch, and parole board. Offenders are generally rated by the agencies on their need for treatment.

DOC reports nearly 85 percent of inmates (approximately 14,846) have a substance abuse problem, either with alcohol or drugs or both. Table V-3 is an estimate of need for substance abuse treatment in prison based on DOC projections and program waiting lists.



Table V-3. Estimate of Need for Substance Abuse

Treatment in Prison and Community

Institutional Need

Inmate Population

Estimate of Substance Abuse Problem (about 85% of inmate population)

Current Demand

(about 50% of those inmates needing treatment)

Current Program Availability

(about 12% of inmates needing treatment)

Untreated Population






Community-based Need

Offender Population in Community


Estimate of Substance Abuse Problem (about 80 percent of population)


Current Program Availability


Residential Beds


Non-residential, Out-patient slots


Estimate of Untreated Population


As shown, within existing substance abuse treatment resources in the prison facilities, the department can provide treatment to only 12 percent (1,782) of the inmates who need it. The department estimates, however, that half of the inmates who need substance abuse treatment would actually accept it were it available -- this statistic is based on waiting lists for institutional programs and requests for treatment by inmates. Therefore, approximately 5,600 inmates who need and would participate in a treatment program are not receiving it.

Table V-3 also outlines the need for services for offenders under some form of community supervision. It is estimated by the criminal justice agencies supervising these offenders that 80 percent have a substance abuse problem.

Currently, almost 61,000 offenders are in the community, and nearly 49,000 of them require some form of drug or alcohol abuse treatment, which includes detoxification services, drug testing, and out-patient counseling programs. The criminal justice system maintains 482 community-based residential treatment beds and about 2,600 nonresidential treatment slots.

Given the treatment bed capacity and total offender population, on a daily basis less than 1 percent of the offenders are in a residential substance abuse treatment program, which provides the most intensive services. It is difficult to calculate the daily use of nonresidential program slots because more than one offender can be serviced by a single slot per day. For the purposes of analysis, however, one slot has been calculated to serve five offenders per day. Almost half (about 24,000) offenders under community supervision receive out-patient treatment services per day. However, half of the population who need treatment do not receive services.

These estimates highlight the acute need for treatment and rehabilitative programs for offenders. In order to have a real impact on controlling prison overcrowding, Connecticut must positively intervene in the behaviors, like substance abuse, that lead to crime. The prison expansion model retains few programs and treats but a small percentage of the offender population -- a significant disadvantage. Although service capacity is still insufficient, an advantage of the community corrections model is a greater percentage of the offender population receives the necessary treatment.

Costs. The prison expansion and the community corrections models both require an investment by the state. Since there are no "cost-free" choices in public policy, the emphasis then should be on efficiency and effectiveness

As previously stated, a disadvantage of the prison expansion is that most resources are allocated to the fewest offenders -- only 22 percent of sentenced offenders are incarcerated. The community corrections model, which provides a comprehensive strategy to manage all offenders, can distribute resources throughout the system. Community corrections also has a lower total cost per offender. A disadvantage is community corrections and the prison system often compete for limited resources rather than being considered parts of the same criminal justice model. Given its current "soft on crime" image, community corrections often is under-funded.

As stated, adding prison and jail capacity is a very costly undertaking. The correction department estimated construction costs about $125,000 per bed for a high security prison (level 4). Given that estimate and the department's current need for 1,600 beds, the construction costs alone would amount to about $200 million, which does not include design, siting costs, and bond interest.

Construction, however, is not the most costly aspect of increasing prison and jail capacity. It is the operating costs. The FY 01 operating budget of the Department of Correction is almost $500 million, the bulk of which is appropriated for inmate care, direct services, and staffing at the prisons and jails. Given that, Connecticut spends over $1.3 million per day on prisons and jails.



Table V-4. Prison Construction Cost Summary

Current Prison Bed Need


Estimated Construction Cost (per bed)


Estimated Construction Cost for New 1,600 Bed Prison


Average Daily Incarceration Cost Per Inmate


Annual Operating Cost for New 1,600 Bed Prison

(based on current per inmate cost)


Operating Costs Projected Over 30 Years*

(based on current cost estimates)


*Does not factor in inflation costs.

Source of data: Department of Correction & Legislative Office of Fiscal Analysis

Table V-4 outlines an estimated cost projection for building and operating a new 1,600-bed prison, which is based on DOC's current need.

Based on the daily average cost of about $96 per day per inmate, the 1,600-bed prison, which DOC reportedly needs to manage the current inmate population, would cost about $56 million per year to operate. As shown in the table, with an expected life cycle of 30 years for a correctional facility, the overall operating cost of that prison would be nearly $1.7 billion -- in addition to the annual operating costs for the other 20 prisons and jails. Add to that the construction costs and bond interest5, and it should be clear the decision to build a prison requires a comprehensive examination of not only how many beds are required, but which offenders should be incarcerated and the alternative options to expansion.

As stated, an advantage of the community corrections model is a lower total cost per offender for supervision, treatment, and other service programs. The parole board spends approximately $4,000 per year on a parolee -- about $11 per day. The judicial branch estimated the annual cost per probationer at $833 -- about $2 per day. Similar to the operation of a prison, direct offender supervision services are the most expensive.

The bulk of the community-based services are contracted for by criminal justice agencies. Most of the services are provided in a nonresidential setting such as day programs offering monitoring, supervision, drug testing, counseling, training, and referral services. There are fewer specialized residential programs, which primarily offer substance abuse evaluations, detoxification, and treatment or work release programs.

The cost per community-based residential bed is about $20,000 per year and between $4,500 to $10,000 per year for a nonresidential program slot. These amounts reflect the cost of a program or service, rather than a daily participation cost. The less intensive programs such as alternative incarceration centers offer a wide range of services for a fee.

It is difficult to breakdown the costs for community-based programs because offenders participate in a variety of services and the lengths of their participation can vary from a few days to years.

Siting difficulties. A disadvantage that is common to both the prison expansion and community corrections models is the difficulty in siting a facility, whether it be a prison, halfway house, or treatment program. This issue -- commonly referred to as the "not in my backyard" argument -- has serious repercussions for the implementation of either strategy. Solutions to reconcile the state's need for services with municipal control over local zoning are beyond the control of the criminal justice system.

1 The program review committee acknowledges other types of crimes may have involved violence, however, the court found (either through trial or plea bargaining) in those cases the violence was not the primary offense.

2 For example, see Community Corrections of Place, December 1999, Todd Clear, PhD. and Ronald Corebett, EdD and Public Support for Correctional Treatment: The Continuing Appeal of the Rehabilitative Ideal, Prison Journal (1997), B.K. Applegate, F.T. Cullen, and D.S. Fisher

3 For example, see Connecticut Alcohol and Drug Policy Council 1999 Annual Report, Prisons versus Probation, July 1996, Joan Petersilia, et al, Policy Implications of Recidivism, August 1986, Stephen Klein and Michael Cagiano; RAND Corporation

4 Longitudinal Study: Alternative to Incarceration Sentencing Evaluation (September 1996), The Justice Education Center

5 The bond interest on $200 million -- the estimated construction cost for 1,600 bed prison -- is 6 percent per year and repayment for the construction bond is $10 million per year over 20 years. For example, in addition to $10 million in principal, bond interest would be $12 million in the first year. The second year bond interest would be $11.4 million, $10.8 million in the third year, $10.2 million in the fourth year, and $9.6 in the fifth year.


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