View Full Version : ADC wants new unit - interesting info..

01-16-2005, 01:45 PM
This contains interesting info about the backups w/in ADC
It's from the NWA edition of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and dated 01/02/05

Administrators with the state’s prison system say Arkansas is going to have to create more space for chronically ill and other "special needs" inmates, and they’d like to do it sooner rather than later.

But the idea of building a new facility has yet to gain ground.

For the past three legislative sessions — since 1999 — the department has tried unsuccessfully to get money to build a 850-bed unit.

Now, the Arkansas Department of Correction has again included the $39 million to $60 million project in its list of capital improvement requests for the 2005 legislative session. The new unit, to be built adjacent to two other lockups in Malvern, would take over most of the functions of the department’s current 475-bed Diagnostic Unit at Pine Bluff that was designed in 1973.

Officials say the project would allow them to consolidate and expand the prison system’s housing for inmates with serious mental illnesses and diseases like chronic diabetes, advanced AIDS and heart disease. It would also mean twice as many beds for prisoner intake, a process that officials say is too rushed to be effective. "We simply do not have the space to do the things that we need to do," said Dr. Max Mobley, the Correction Department’s deputy director in charge of health and correctional programs.

In a legislative session when lawmakers are already set to grapple with millions of dollars in school facility improvement needs, getting the money will be difficult. Legislators say the prison department — like every other state agency — can’t be assured approval for every request.

Sen. Jim Argue, D-Little Rock, said he’s not familiar with the specifics of the prison department’s request for a specialneeds unit. But, he said, its potential for gaining approval is likely to come down to a judgment by legislators as to whether the project can wait. "Just in a general way, not really targeted at the advantages or disadvantages of their proposal, I would think in this budgetary environment requests for large sums of money that have any feeling about them that they are discretionary would be unlikely," said Argue, who will be president pro tempore of the Senate in 2005.

The Correction Department’s male population is more than 12,000 and is expected to reach 15,000 by 2009. Besides getting larger, the demographics of the prison population have also evolved. At the end of fiscal 2003, more than 4 percent of male inmates were 55 or older, up from about 2.4 percent of the population at the end of fiscal 1993.

Prison officials say those changes have created an unmistakable need for more space dedicated to the needs of the mentally and physically ill. The Diagnostic Unit, they say, could then be used to house prison rehabilitation programs and additional bed space for other inmates.

Several other states already operate some form of the "special-needs unit."

Fred Scaletta, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Correction, said his state built the 200-bed Clinical Care Unit of the Iowa State Penitentiary two years ago. It was an effort to consolidate its programs for seriously mentally ill inmates. In the past, he said, the department’s mental health resources were stretched from unit to unit trying to make sure those inmates most in need were served. "Many mental health programs, particularly in-patient, are dwindling away out there so a lot of these people are coming into corrections now," Scaletta said. "We’ve had a big increase over the last several years."

Iowa’s Clinical Care Unit cost $28 million to build and $8.3 million annually to operate.

While the unit built in Iowa helped that state better handle mentally ill inmates who are a risk to themselves or others, getting the money wasn’t a slamdunk, Scaletta said. "I wouldn’t say that it was proposed one year and granted. There was certainly some justification that had to be made before we got approval for it," he said.

To provide justification for a specialized unit in Arkansas, officials cite figures compiled in 2000 by the New York-based Pulitzer/Bogard & Associates. The consultants estimate that by 2009:

The department will have almost 200 inmates who require "specialized placement due to serious mental illness or risk of harm to self or others" and about 40 requiring similar placement because of "severe cognitive impairment." The Diagnostic Unit has 65 beds in its "special programs unit" now. Those are for inmates most in need of treatment for acute mental illness.

There will be a need for 282 sheltered living beds. These are beds for inmates with medical or physical disabilities, elderly inmates with chronic care needs and inmates who require hospice level of care. The department has about 160 sheltered living beds. More than 100 of those are at the Jefferson County Regional Detention Center building, not the Diagnostic Unit.

Twenty-nine inmates will need hospital care at any given time, roughly the same as the number of hospital beds now at the Diagnostic Unit.

Prison officials’ proposal also includes 300 beds for receiving new prisoners into the state system.

Right now, the state’s ™ intake beds — where newly arrived inmates stay before they are assigned to a facility — are at the Diagnostic Unit in Pine Bluff.

With its perpetual backup in county jails, the department tries to keep at least 30 prisoners flowing into the Diagnostic Unit each day. But to achieve that goal with the number of intake beds they have now, officials must limit new inmates’ time at the diagnostic center to about five days.

The problem is that five days isn’t enough time to get a full medical report or to plan which programs an inmate should attend in the prison system, Mobley said.

Inmates who leave the unit without a solid plan in place often fail to get into programs they need to be paroled, Mobley said. That leaves them waiting in the state’s overcrowded prisons when they could be released and their beds freed up.

As of Dec. 17, about 325 inmates had passed their parole eligibility dates but still needed to complete a program like sex offender or drug addiction therapy before leaving. "You simply cannot get all the medical testing and all the program planning done in five days. You simply can’t do it," Mobley said. "It has been a bad situation for some time and, of course, that’s why we’ve asked for this unit."

The 850-bed facility, however, is not the department’s only funding request.

In its budget request for the coming biennium, the Correction Department asked for millions in funding increases to, for example, pay correctional officers more and to open 516 new beds at units in Newport and Malvern.

Gov. Mike Huckabee has recommended that legislators increase the department’s general revenue budget from more than $209 million this year to $244 million in fiscal 2006 and $251 million in fiscal 2007.

The money for the specialneeds unit would come from the state’s General Improvement Fund and would be separate from the general revenue budget increases that make up Huckabee’s recommendation. General improvement funds totaling $215 million are expected to be available over the next two years. That money is used for one-time projects.

A recent study that found that Arkansas’ public schools need $2.3 billion worth of immediate upgrades, and some people have suggested the General Improvement Fund be tapped to pay for some of those needs.

Prison officials also are asking for money from the General Improvement Fund to help pay bond obligations on prisons already built.

Sen. Shane Broadway, DBryant, said that while he’s heard lots of talk from legislators about the need to stem the growing prison population, he’s unsure how a construction project would fare.

It’s not that legislators doubt prison officials’ description of the situation, but money is also needed elsewhere in state government, Broadway said.

Broadway said he expects to get a clearer idea of future funding when the Legislature convenes Jan. 10. "I wouldn’t say anything is impossible right now," he said. "We haven’t even gotten in session yet."