The addition of 120 new bunks at the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility in Cranston has inmates up in arms and both the Department of Corrections and the ACLU tight-lipped.
Letters to both the Beacon and the ACLU from inmates in the Moran Facility took issue with the 120-bunk addition, citing concerns with inmate equality and treatment. The letters claim that the 120-bunk addition affects all of the cellblocks but one: a block occupied by inmates participating in the NEADS (National Education for Assistance Dog Services) program, which helps train dogs for the disabled.
The cells for the NEADS participants would remain as single occupancy units. The letters allege that by converting other single-bunk cells into double-bunk cells, the project creates a “sub-class” of inmates, a violation of the 8th Amendment.
In one letter, an inmate writes: “This action [addition of bunks] allows 24 A-mod cells to remain available for occupancy by inmates employed in the NEADS program. A program privately sponsored and funded. This raises the question of, ‘Is the 120 cell/inmate increase a reaction to and an answer for an un-established over-crowding or is the ACI only interested in maintaining funding resources from any contributor?’”
In the letter to the National Prison Project of the ACLU, inmates say that a population increase stipulation was signed and approved by Alvin Bronstein, who retired from his position of director of the National Prison Project in 1995. The letter says his signature is on the population approval stipulation dated 2011. Bronstein reportedly approved the measure after watching a video of inmate activity – a video the letter says is of the very block of the facility that would not be affected by the bunk addition. Both the National and Rhode Island ACLU declined any comment on the matter.
The addition of 120 new beds in the Moran facility comes in the wake of the 2011 closure of the Donald Price Medium Security Facility. The Donald Price facility contained 360 beds and about 300 inmates as of the summer of 2011. According to Rhode Island House spokesman Larry Berman, the Price facility had the second most expensive per capita costs: $53,251 annually per offender. A spokeswoman from the ACI said the current daily cost of medium security inmate is $105.27 a day on average. Berman said the Rhode Island Department of Corrections proposed the closure of the facility in their fiscal year 2012 budget, projecting about $10 million in savings. The prison population has been declining since its peak in 2008.
Although the governor’s budget recommendation did not include the closure of the Price facility, the General Assembly’s enacted budget did. Their proposal assumed $6 million in savings from consolidating the two medium security facilities. Berman explained that the Assembly’s recommendation was “based on the population level and available beds, as well as the expectation that the department would exercise its authority to reclassify the inmate population and achieve the recommended savings.” The Assembly’s savings figure included reduced overtime and operating costs, it was projected to take six months to make the transition and that annual savings from fiscal year 2013 and beyond would amount to $12 million. However, the Department of Correction’s fiscal year 2013 budget suggested the savings were closer to $10 million, said Berman. According to figures provided by the Budget Office, the Department of Corrections FY 2012 enacted budget included savings of $6 million due to closing the facility as of January 1, 2012, but the department actually closed the facility in November 2011 and ended FY 2012 with a surplus of approximately $1.3 million.
The current project at the ACI will add 12 additional bunks to each side of five housing modules in the John J. Moran Medium Security Facility. The project will cost $52,166, though the Department of Corrections estimated the project’s cost at $200,000 in FY 2012.
Though sources inside the prison claim the additional bunks will cause safety and equality issues, a spokeswoman from the ACI said the bunk installation does not violate any court orders and everything is being installed to code.
The ACI maintains that the addition of the 120 beds is meant to decrease overflow from the intake center, where, many times (especially on weekends and holidays) those taken in are forced to spend days in group holding cells. With more room in the medium security facility, inmates can be moved more quickly through the process, and some inmates can be either upgraded or downgraded to the other low- and high-security prisons.
Neither the John J. Moran nor the Donald Price Medium Security Facility was at capacity at the time of the latter’s closure, but consolidation did cause the John J. Moran prison to move closer to capacity. According to the spokeswoman, Moran now houses 1,021 inmates and has a designated capacity of 1,064. The ACI was looking to increase the capacity of the sole medium security facility in operation; the spokeswoman said an inspector allowed for an addition of only 120 bunks.
Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall also remained tight-lipped on the project. He did not wish to address how the closure of the Donald Price Medium Security Facility has impacted the ACI. Wall would not reiterate concerns he aired during last year’s session, nor would he speculate on why the General Assembly chose to mandate the closure. He also wouldn’t offer up what would have been, in his opinion, a reasonable alternative. Wall also wasn’t clear on whether or not the concerns he spoke about before had come to fruition now that the facility has been closed.