The3rd meeting of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary of the Interim Joint Committee on Appropriations and Revenue was held on<Day> Monday, November 16, 2009, at 10:30 AM, in Room 129 of the Capitol Annex. Representative Jesse Crenshaw, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Guests: LaDonna Thompson, Commissioner, Department of Corrections; Ed Moynahan, Commissioner, Department of Public Advocacy; Mark Robinson, Director of Administrative Services, Department of Corrections, Greg Harkenrider, Deputy Director, Office of State Budget Director, Michael Jones, Governor’s Office of Policy Research.
LRC Staff: Mike Mullins and Ashlee Mcdonald.
Chairman Crenshaw welcomed the members and attendees to the meeting. A quorum was not present.
Commissioner Thompson introduced her guests to the committee, and with the help of Director Robinson, presented information concerning the current and projected prison population. Greg Harkenrider and Michael Jones explained the process used to project the inmate population for the upcoming biennium.
Chairman Crenshaw stated that he understood that the numbers provided by Mr. Harkenrider would not be an exact figure, but it would be an estimate of the population that the legislature would use in the upcoming session to help prepare the budget for the Department of Corrections.
Representative Webb-Edgington asked if a private vendor makes the initial assessment of the prison population figures whether that assessment is compared with GOPM figures. Mr. Harkenrider confirmed that the final projection was a blend of the consultant and GOPM’s analysis.
Representative Webb-Edgington asked what the private vendors charge for services, and if there is an ongoing contract with them. Commissioner Thompson stated that there is a contract, and the cost is about $27,000 a year for the population projections and other minor services. Representative Webb-Edgington asked what other services the vendors provide. Commissioner Thompson stated she they provide information that she requests concerning programs in other states, and provide outside expertise for the department when it is considering changes in policies or programs. For instance, last year the department tried to determine why the population was rising. The department consulted with the vendor and they found that the Parole Board was granting parole at a lower rate than in the past. Because they were able to identify the reasons, it was possible to estimate a more accurate population projection.
Representative Webb-Edgington asked what the time frame is from when a person is arrested to when they are sentenced and imprisoned. She further stated that this lag time from arrest to imprisonment could impact the prison population projections.
Mr. Harkenrider stated the Consensus Forecasting Group (CFG) will be meeting on December 4th and will be able to elaborate more on the issue. He stated that most of the variables that effect the prison population are employment related variables. He also stated that employment has not hit a bottom and is not expected to do so until sometime in 2010. The bottom for the unemployment rate and most of the employment variables that are useful in models will not be seen until the middle of 2010. Mr. Harkenrider stated the lag is approximately 3 or 4 months between arrest date and incarceration date. He gave the example that if an arrest were to occur in the middle of 2010 the fiscal pressure would possibly not be felt until 2011 or even into 2012. Mr. Harkenrider stated that growth in the prison population in 2011 and 2012 is inevitable.
Chairman Crenshaw asked if the Department of Corrections or the administration has any ideas or proposals to present to the General Assembly that might mitigate the projected prison population growth. He further stated that if the department had any recommendations, the sooner they informed the General Assembly of those ideas, the better, because of the turnaround time needed to make a recommendation into law. Chairman Crenshaw stated that he had asked the Administrative Office of the Courts for recommendations to help deal with the issue as well. Commissioner Thompson stated they do not have any recommendations at this time. She also stated that she has been asked by other committees about recommendations to fix the growth issue and about electronic monitoring. Commissioner Thompson stated that the department is currently gathering information on both subjects to help arrive at a recommendation.
Chairman Crenshaw stated that offenders in Fayette County are paying for the use of the GPS monitoring system themselves and by doing so; Fayette County has saved approximately $50 a day. He stated it is not cost effective in hard economic times to incarcerate offenders that are not a real danger to society or themselves. Chairman Crenshaw stated if GPS monitoring could be utilized to help reduce the prison population, costs could be reduced significantly.
Chairman Crenshaw asked if the proposed raise of felony costs from $300 to $500 had been figured into any of the numbers presented to the committee. Commissioner Thompson stated it had not been figured in, but that the department is in the process of analyzing the impact of that change.
Senator Seum asked if the Department of Corrections tracks bills introduced by the General Assembly that call for enhanced penalties and informs legislators of the impact these bills will have on the budget. Commissioner Thompson stated they do have an opportunity to review the bills and they present fiscal impact statements that show the increased costs.
Chairman Crenshaw asked if there are meetings between the department and the Sponsors of the various bills. Mark Mangeot, with the Justice Cabinet Office of Legislative Services stated when a bill is introduced that will effect an agency, the first priority is to sit down and discuss cause and effect with the specific sponsor or sponsors of the bills.
Chairman Crenshaw asked if there are plans to expand any institutions. Commissioner Thompson stated it has been requested in the budget to expand Little Sandy Correctional Complex.
Chairman Crenshaw stated in the last Judiciary meeting, concerns were expressed regarding food services at Northpoint prison, and for the entire prison system. Chairman Crenshaw stated that during the last Judicial Committee meeting there were serious accusations made concerning the food services and requested that Commissioner Thompson address this issue. He stated during the 2nd Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary meeting, the department was in the process of investigating the allegations and the committee decided to wait until the report was released on the investigation before discussing the issue any further. Chairman Crenshaw stated that because the report had been finalized, he would now like to discuss the issue.
Chairman Crenshaw asked if the cost of the food services per inmate is $2.63 per day. Commissioner Thompson stated that was correct. Chairman Crenshaw asked if that amount included 3 meals per day. Commissioner Thompson stated that was correct as well. Chairman Crenshaw asked what meal is available to the inmates at that low of a cost. Commissioner Thompson stated that the meals are put together based on size and nutritional value. She indicated there is a specific size to each serving. She stated that the opportunity for Aramark to buy in bulk is one of the reasons for being able to provide a meal at such a low cost. Commissioner Thompson stated when the department provided the meals; the cost was approximately $3.28 a day per inmate. She stated the costs also include all staff salaries. Chairman Crenshaw stated he is perplexed at the ability of the contract vendor to be able to provide a meal at such a cost, when even a small hamburger costs more than $.80 per meal, and the hamburger itself is not even a complete meal. Commissioner Thompson stated that she is unaware of the pricing structure for how they determine a certain amount of money per meal.
Chairman Crenshaw recapped statements made in the Judiciary meeting pertaining to the meals in the prison systems. He stated one accusation was made that some inmates constantly stay hungry because they are not receiving enough food. He stated it was also alleged by one witness that the cause of the disturbances at Northpoint Training Center was bad food, food that had been stretched too far such as soups being thinned down by water to accommodate the growing population of inmates. Chairman Crenshaw stated that it was alleged the inmates decided to riot because the food situation was so dire. He indicated that members of the General Assembly should ask the department to closely monitor far these types of situations because it has been alleged that these circumstances exist not only occurring at Northpoint, but system wide. Chairman Crenshaw stated that in some way, this situation needs to be addressed.
Commissioner Thompson stated she understands that food is always a concern and also that as a committee and legislators they have need to know what has been occurring. She indicated that all the menus are set on a caloric intake that is set at a national level, and she could provide the committee with that information. Chairman Crenshaw stated the allegations were not concerning the nutritional value of the food on the menu, but that the food quality and quantity may be altered to the point that they are not what Aramark is being paid to provide. He indicated that if the allegations are correct, inmates are getting far less caloric intake than what is recommended. He stated the allegations are that no one is listening to the inmates when complaints are launched about the amount of food, what the food contains, and the quality of food. Commissioner Thompson stated the quality is reviewed at the institutional level and staff is in place in kitchens and elsewhere that monitor the situation. She stated the department is involved with Aramark and sometimes what is found is an inappropriate amount of food in a scoop and when that is found, there is follow-up. Commissioner Thompson stated there are also reports that come from the facilities to the nutritionists every week to follow up. She stated occasionally there have been times where things were not correct and they have brought it to Aramark’s attention and it has been corrected. She indicated there has been staff turnover with Aramark because the Aramark employees did not do what they were supposed to do.
Commissioner Thompson stated she does not believe it is systematic nor is it wide spread. She said she has done a survey with the wardens and asked if they had systematic issues after this had come to her attention, and the results were that none of the wardens claimed there was a systematic issue. She stated a few wardens claimed that occasionally those things do happen, but it is not an ongoing issue. Commissioner Thompson stated that as far as allegations claiming certain things were in food, some of those were not correct. She stated there has been a time or two where an insect would be found in food and that happened not only with Aramark, but also when the department was in charge of the food. She indicated that can occur with the nature of the business in working in big kitchens such as the ones in the prison systems. Commissioner Thompson stated as soon as anything of that nature is discovered, it is pulled from the line and that is the way both the department and Aramark handle the situation. She stated she did not have the information with her on the food service issue, but would be happy to come back anytime with it and with the people who handle the food service. Chairman Crenshaw stated that the committee may have the department do that at some point. He also stated that it was suggested in the Judiciary Committee meeting that all parties involved in these allegations meet together, the people making the accusations, the Judiciary Committee, the Department of Corrections' staff and Aramark. Chairman Crenshaw stated the reason this suggestion was made was because the allegations are very serious and need to be addressed.
Senator Seum stated when he was in the Military he had the duty of being in charge of food. He stated they had a “master menu.” He asked if the institutions have master menus. Commissioner Thompson stated they do have a master menu.
Senator Seum asked if there is a farm system in place for growing and providing food. Commissioner Thompson stated there was and the system incorporates some of the produce grown on the farms into the inmate meals. Senator Seum asked if the $2.63 per inmate per day meal cost included the produce given by the farms. Commissioner Thompson stated the figure does not include the produce provided by farms. She also indicated the produce is provided to Aramark to use and Aramark reimburses the state for its use. She also stated there is not a large amount of produce that is distributed this way.
Senator Seum asked what is available at the concessions and asked if the concessions do well. Mr. Robinson stated the commissaries do have steady business. He stated that how Aramark structures its costs is proprietary. He also indicated the department pays Aramark $2.63 per inmate based on total population, not just on who consumes the food. He stated if 85% or 90% of the inmate population eat that day, the department will still pay the same amount as if 100% of the population ate. Senator Seum asked if inmates can choose to eat at the commissary instead of the meal. Mr. Robinson stated that could if they had the necessary funds.
Chairman Crenshaw stated that one of the accusations in the Judiciary meeting was that inmates were not getting enough to eat, and therefore needing to go to the commissary for additional food.
Chairman Crenshaw asked if the department has arrived at a cost of repair for Northpoint and how much of that cost would be covered by insurance. Commissioner Thompson stated the insurance company is still working on getting an estimate to the department. Chairman Crenshaw asked when Commissioner Thompson expected the information. Commissioner Thompson stated the insurance company was supposed to have an estimate to the department approximately a week and a half before the meeting, however, the insurance primary care provider did not agree with the engineer so a revised estimate is in progress, but they have not given a specific date for the estimate.
Chairman Crenshaw re-stated the accusation of bad food being part of the cause of the riot. He asked if steps are being taken to ensure this type of incident does not occur at another institution no matter what the accusation. Commissioner Thompson stated the information has been gathered in draft form concerning the events at Northpoint. She also stated the draft is currently being reviewed by the Secretary and Governor. She stated anytime a serious incident such as Northpoint occurs; the department uses the experience as training for all the other institutions to ensure a second incident does not occur.
Chairman Crenshaw stated that at the Judiciary meeting, it was alleged that when a complaint was lodged, it was ignored. He stated that he understands there is constant communication between the wardens, the department, the Cabinet and others involved, however, the allegation was that the complaint was ignored, not that there was not constant communication between the parties involved.
Chairman Crenshaw asked if any additional programs are going to be added to Northpoint once it is rebuilt, such as a drug treatment facility or any program that will need additional funding. Commissioner Thompson stated the department has reviewed the facility and should not need more funding for additional programs.
Representative Webb-Edgington asked for an example of a lunch or dinner meal that would be served in the facilities. Commissioner Thompson stated the last time she ate at an institution; she had tacos, refried beans, a salad, a cookie and something to drink. Mr. Mangeot stated Secretary Geveden personally asked inmates if their meal was satisfactory. Secretary Geveden’s findings were that inmates agreed they were satisfied with their meals, and they had plenty to eat.
Representative Webb-Edgington asked if anyone from the department visits the institutions unannounced to eat. Commissioner Thompson stated that they do visit and eat unannounced.
Representative Tilley stated there are two sides to every story and given the current situation, the committee is waiting on the report that the Governor and Secretary are reviewing before making any decisions on the issue. He also reiterated the suggestion of bringing everyone involved together for a meeting to hash out the issue.
Representative Tilley stated Aramark was given the opportunity to respond to the allegations made at the Judiciary Committee meeting and failed to comment. He asked if Aramark has contacted anyone in the department for a response to the allegations. Commissioner Thompson stated she believes Aramark would agree to attend a meeting of everyone involved to respond.
Chairman Crenshaw thanked Commissioner Thompson for appearing before the committee and welcomed Commissioner Ed Moynahan for his presentation to the committee.
Commissioner Moynahan thanked the committee and introduced himself before he began his presentation on the Department of Public Advocacy’s budgetary status.
Representative Tilley asked if there are any recommendations from the department about paying public defenders more who have experience and who can also handle higher caseloads. He stated the pay scale concerns him.
Commissioner Moynahan stated he agreed a pay increase should occur for the more experienced attorneys. He stated with the current turnover rate of experienced attorneys because of low pay is costing the state money in the long run. He also indicated that when a new lawyer is hired for the Commonwealth, they are usually asked to relocate and they also have the additional burden of student loans from undergraduate school and law school. Commissioner Moynahan stated he would like to have the resources to obtain and retain new attorneys. He stated he would like to be able to keep attorneys that are of high value to the court system, clients, and agencies without losing them because of a lack of flexibility in funding.
Rep Tilley stated he agreed with that position. Rep. Tilley stated that he believed a good, more experienced attorney can handle the workload of 2 or 3 newer attorneys.
Commissioner Moynahan stated the experienced attorneys can handle cases of much greater complexity.
Rep Tilley asked what the top pay of seasoned attorney is. Commissioner Moynahan stated he will provide the committee with that information, but does not currently have it with him.
Rep Tilley stated that he sees people being granted public advocates that can afford their own attorneys and should not be receiving help from a public advocate. He further stated that because of this, DPA seems to be getting more cases than they should have.
Chairman Crenshaw thanked Commissioner Moynahan for his presentation. Chairman Crenshaw adjourned the meeting at approximately 12:26 P.M.