Dozens of new inmates slept on mattresses on the floor of an intake service center last weekend as Rhode Island's prison population soared to an all-time high of 3,881, reports the Providence Journal. The continuing rise compounds a vexing budget deficit that already has state decision makers struggling to find ways to reduce the inmate population by 500 to save $4 million next fiscal year. Criminal-justice system officials have been meeting for weeks trying to reach a consensus on how to drop the inmate population by 500. They are considering several options suggested by consultants with the Council of State Governments.
Among them: increase the number of criminals on home confinement; relax parole guidelines so more criminals are eligible for release; divert more convicts from prison to alcohol- and drug-treatment programs; give convicts more opportunity to earn more days of “good time” each month that are then shaved off their sentences. A large number of inmates also translates into more sick inmates needing medical attention, more inmates preparing to go to court each day, more meals and clothing necessary to feed and care for them, and fewer available seats in required inmate programs such as drug treatment. The department's current budget of $162.4 million was based on an average daily inmate population of 3,375.