Report supports RI plan to renovate supermax prison

The project will allow the state to design the prison in a more efficient layout requiring fewer COs to watch over inmates

Patrick Anderson
The Providence Journal, R.I.

CRANSTON, R.I. — Renovating Rhode Islands' highest security prison will save the state tens of millions of dollars over the next three decades in reduced correctional worker pay and avoided maintenance to the current building, according to consultant's study released by Gov. Gina Raimondo's administration Monday.

Exactly how many tens of millions of dollars — $25.8 million or $41.8 million — depends on whether you include $16 million in spending from the state's capital reserves, which the consultant, CGL Companies of El Paso, Texas, excluded from their analysis.

The report, part of a $1-million contract with CGL to analyze all Adult Correctional Institutions facilities, provides financial justification for the state's contentious plan to gut the "SuperMax" facility and move Rhode Island's most violent inmates elsewhere while it is refurbished.

The project, expected to take three and a quarter years to complete, will allow the state to redesign the prison in a more efficient layout requiring fewer officers to watch over the same number of inmates and lower operating costs.

Raimondo's budget calls for borrowing $45 million and spending $16 million in Rhode Island Capital Plan reserves to pay for the $61-million renovation.

But while the consultant's report notes the $16-million down payment, it doesn't count it in its final cost summary of the renovation plan or assume the same capital funds would be available to reduce the amount of borrowing needed to rebuild from scratch, the only other option considered.

As a result, the study assumes the state would end up paying $119.6 million including interest for new construction, versus $66.2 million for the renovation project. (If the $16-million RICAP down payment was used toward new construction, that plan would result in a $7.6-million net 30-year savings instead of a $17.8-million cost.)

The study lists in almost identical bullet points the same operational benefits of renovating the high security prison and building a new unit across the street.

"It remains clear to us from this report that renovation remains the best and most cost-effective approach to address our High Security issues, but we are open to further discussion about the Governor's proposal," Brenna McCabe, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration, said in an email. "We have met with Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Workers to discuss the report and plan to continue our dialogue with them regarding the proposal and how to best improve our facilities in the most safe, cost-effective ways."

The union representing correctional officers vehemently opposes closing the SuperMax to renovate it and is running an ad campaign saying Raimondo will have "blood on her hands" if it happens.

Richard Ferruccio, president of the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers, said he met with Raimondo administration officials Monday morning and hadn't had a chance to go through the CGL report yet. But despite the talks, the union is continuing with its public-relations campaign until the governor abandons the plans to close the high security prison, he said.

The CGL study shows that a big difference between renovating and rebuilding the prison is the projected cost savings the state would see during the three-plus year closure of high security when inmates would be transferred to other prisons. The state would save an estimated $29.9 million in salaries over those three-plus years.

Once the inmates return to the renovated prison, the new, more efficient design would save $2 million per year in worker pay, rising to $4.4 million per year after 30 years, the study said.

Those personnel savings, plus $100,000 in annual utility and maintenance savings, would more than offset the construction costs, annual debt service and estimated $9.4 million to send 36 inmates out of state, the report concludes.

Raimondo's budget assumes $5.1 million in Correctional Department savings next year as a result of the plan.

Despite the significant cost savings projected from temporarily outsourcing custody of many of its most violent out of state, CGL was not asked to study, and the Raimondo administration is not even considering, doing it permanently.

High security "is an important tool for managing this prison population and ensuring safety of these inmates as well as our staff. Rhode Island only has one Maximum Security Facility and one Medium Security Facility," McCabe said.


©2019 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)

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