TN prison system bursts budget as it paints cells - WSMV Channel 4

TN prison system bursts budget as it paints cells

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

As the economy struggles to rebound, a lot of important state programs have been cut.

But one state agency is about to go over its budget, and some may be surprised where a lot of that money was spent - the prison system.

Housing inmates has never been cheap. In fact, the Department of Correction said in 2011 it cost $65 a day to house each inmate.

However, records show that since Commissioner Derek Schofield was appointed to lead the department almost two years ago, its spending has gone up.

In the year after the commissioner's appointment, the budget went up an estimated $24 million. And though the books aren't yet closed on 2012, it looks like the department could exceed that by as much as $20 million more.

"It's not like we messed our budget up. It was one particular category that dealt with the backup of offenders," Schofield said.

Backup offenders are those housed in county jails across the state at a cost of $35 a day. They are the inmates the state simply doesn't have room for.

"If you don't have beds to put them in, that number will continue to grow," Schofield said.

And it has. The Channel 4 I-Team found records that show the department paid local jails about $34 million more over the previous year to have 4,000 state inmates stockpiled in Midstate jails.

That is double the amount that were there just two years ago.

"Those folks are not going away. I mean, they're going to be there. I think we're headed to a difficult situation," said state Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, former chairman of the Select Oversight Committee on Corrections.

The I-Team has also learned the department spent about $4 million more last year on overtime due to correctional officers leaving in high numbers and an increase in prison violence.

Plus, an additional $14 million was spent on maintenance costs last year.

However, what has bothered people most is the estimated $700,000 spent on paint simply meant to spruce up every prison in the state. That figure doesn't even include the cost of inmate labor to do the painting.

"We went in, did an inspection in all the facilities and my decision was we needed to paint these facilities. They're dingy, they're dull. We needed to brighten it up," Schofield said.

Schofield said another prison is scheduled to open in January, which will add 1,500 beds to the state prison system and should help relieve the backup problem.

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