Georgia was already doing nearly as well as or better than other southern states in two categories – prisoner health care real cost dollars and the percentage of max out inmates released without supervision – even before the state began to implement criminal justice reform four years ago, according to two reports from the Pew Charitable Trusts Public Safety Performance Project.
An adult inmate health care report published Tuesday analyzed percentage increases and actual dollars spent per adult inmate for all states during the five-year period 2007 through 2011. Pew said the median increase for all states was 10 percent with Georgia at just five percent. California had the greatest percentage increase – 42% – and the highest per inmate annual cost — $14,495. Georgia spent $4,018.
One reason for increased health care cost is older inmates … there are more of them and five years ago more states began to count and report the number of inmates age 55 and older. In that regard there is now more data to analyze and compare than existed earlier than 2009.
Southern states as a group spent less per person on adult inmate health care than did states in other regions. Seven of the eleven lowest spending states are from the South. Florida did not make the bottom eleven in terms of dollars spent but Florida showed a four percent decrease. South Carolina reported no percentage increase and actual spending was ranked 49th lowest.
Tennessee reported arguably the worst results by a southern state with actual spending up 16 percent to $6,388 per inmate. North Carolina spending rose two percent to $6,287 per inmate. For a different context on those taxpayer dollars, Tennessee and North Carolina both spent about 50 percent more per person than Georgia for adult inmate health care.
Max out inmates serve complete sentences – usually longer rather than shorter sentences – before release into the community. Pew studied state-by-state data for 115,000 max out inmates released from state prisons during 2012 without any planned supervision. Georgia reported 3,436 max out inmate releases with no supervision plan which was 19.2 percent of all Georgia prisoners released during 2012.
Georgia was a bit lower than the 21.5 percent average for all states nationally and much lower than its bordering states. Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida released between 30 and 64 percent of their inmates without any planned supervision.
Arkansas released five percent without supervision but Arkansas releases were low at slightly more than 300 inmates. Texas by comparison released almost 11,300 inmates without planned supervision, but those former felons were less than 14 percent of all Texas inmate releases.
Adam Gelb is director of the Pew Charitable Trusts Performance Project.
“We shouldn’t have inmates leaving our prisons, where they are under lock and key 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and returning to their communities with zero supervision, accountability or support.,” said Gelb. “That’s not common sense, and it flies in the face of research that public safety is better served when offenders undergo a period of supervision.”
Max out strategies are one focus of the ongoing Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform.
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
(Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014)
Has Georgia chosen a fast road toward its foster care privatization pilot project when a slower, more deliberate road might produce a better outcome? Is this the tortoise and hare story again?
“All of us in state government at one time or another have been given an order to get something done in less time than you need,” says Mark A. Washington. “You work to achieve that but if more time was possible to design it differently or respond differently, I think kids would benefit.”
Washington is managing partner of The Washington Group, a Georgia-based consultancy that works in juvenile justice, foster care, managed care and other policy sectors. Washington was Georgia’s state Division of Family and Children Services director in 2008 – 2010 after three years with the same responsibilities in Kentucky. Today he asks, “Why are we moving so fast?”
Washington and other child welfare advocates met with state officials this week in Atlanta in the only face-to-face opportunity they will have to question officials about the foster care project. State employees were about one-third of less than thirty attendees who were sparsely sprinkled throughout a large auditorium. Attendance was optional which might explain the crowd size.
This spring the state announced a foster care pilot project would start in many north – northwest counties (Region 3) and eastern counties (Region 5). The state request-for-proposals was posted June 23, the informational meeting was held June 30 and documents must be filed with the state no later than July 18. The period from RFP to final submission is not even one month.
This is moving fast and there were plenty of reasonable questions at the Monday meeting:
Does the state know whether existing foster care families in Regions 3 and 5 are willing to transfer from state Division of Family and Children Services supervision to a contracted private agency supervising a foster care child? “We haven’t surveyed them,” said a state child welfare services official. “We hope they all would be willing.” That means the state does not know.
Washington asked whether the state would provide information regarding the therapeutic needs and the level of care assigned to each child in Regions 3 and 5. This would include behavioral health and other medical service required by kids who would be transferred from state to so-called private supervision. The answer: No, that was not planned. Later a state official told Washington that his suggestion could be considered.
Would the state be willing to enter into contracts that are longer than one state fiscal year? The answer: No, contracts will be for one year but a successful supplier could be renewed annually through June 30, 2019, after review. One year is how most state contracts are written. BUT: Entering into new relationships this complicated often requires substantial upfront financial investment and greater financial guarantees than you can put into an annual contract.
Would an agency that manages foster care services become financially responsible for costs if the numbers of foster children or services they require exceed estimates? The answer: No, an agency will be reimbursed for numbers of foster children and their services.
Here’s another question: Will any of this make Georgia kids safer?
Recent headlines about Georgia child deaths were not generated from foster care. Two kids who died last year were in child protective services investigations, but they were not part of foster care. Both kids were living with the primary adults in their lives, and that was unfortunate. A child who died this year also was in protective services and was not involved in foster care.
Jean Logan is a former Florida deputy assistant secretary for children, youth and families and earlier, she worked in Wisconsin children services. Today Logan’s firm Strategic Partners consults widely in the public sector. “The majority of the impact on whether kids get hurt or killed is not going to happen in this (foster care) contract,” Logan after Monday’s meeting.
Logan said privatization could “improve the quality of the places that they are living and their wellbeing which is something that child welfare has done very poorly but it’s not going to impact the things that hit the paper which are kids dying or being injured because that is happening prior to (foster care). In the South my experience has been headlines drive public policy.”
Foster care privatization — how it should be organized, how the financial model should work, whether some services would be unnecessarily duplicated and much more — is certain to generate many headlines for months. Whether it generates good public policy is discussion for another day. There is this advice from Mark Washington: “In Georgia, our investment needs to start aligning with our expectations. We can learn from other states’ experience. Let’s start smart, start small.”
(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)
(Published Thursday, July 3, 2014)
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