Correction payroll services run out Sunday

Informal sessions may be last chance to address the matter

BOSTON (State House News Service) – Two weeks ago, House budget chief Brian Dempsey urged the Massachusetts House to support a midyear spending bill because it included funding needed to ensure the Department of Correction, which runs the state’s prisons, can meet its payroll in June.

“We believe it’s important to move forward on that,” Dempsey deadpanned before the House rubber-stamped a $45.5 million spending bill (H 3718).

The Senate last week passed a bill that includes $15 million in payroll funds, but added an amendment that appears to have slowed the bill’s progress.

Asked Wednesday when the state would no longer be able to meet payroll in the correction department, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security told the News Service the date is this Sunday, June 11. Agreement on the spending bill would prevent any payroll problems.

The bill’s advancement in the House came a week after the release of a MassINC report that concluded correction department and county sheriff spending combined had increased 18 percent between fiscal 2011 and 2016, while the prison population declined by almost 3,000 or 12 percent. Researchers said increased spending was focused on raises and new hires for correctional officers, not on programs designed to rehabilitate prisoners and inmates.

When the Senate approved its version of the bill on June 1, it added a section requiring a report on correction spending. The House promptly rejected that amendment, agreeing to the rest of the bill and sending it back to the Senate, where the bill has been pending for the past week.

The Senate amendment would require the Baker administration by Jan. 1, 2018 to issue a report detailing inmate population, costs per inmate, expenses on payroll, and expenses on programming for recidivism reduction, including case management, reentry support, behavioral health counseling and education.

Senators are seeking data covering the previous five fiscal years and projected data for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, as well as recommendations “to increase the percentage of spending on evidence-based recidivism reduction programming.”

Criminal justice reform proponents are pressing this session to advance a bill reducing the state’s prison population, improving anti-recidivism programs and making it easier for ex-offenders to successfully reenter society after completing criminal sentences. Consensus has not formed around such a bill.

Due to weak growth in tax collections and underfunding of accounts by the Legislature, the Baker administration this year has been trying to hold down spending while refusing to specify measures they are taking to do so or programs and initiatives affected by spending restrictions.

The House and Senate have informal sessions scheduled Thursday, perhaps the last chance to address correction funding before payroll funds run out.

A Baker administration official indicated Wednesday night that he could find out about contingency plans, in case funds are not approved, on Thursday. He said the administration has worked to make sure payroll isn’t missed, but could not provide details about how that would occur without supplemental funds.