State prisons would cut spending in the next year by ending convict work crews and making hundreds of inmates eligible for earlier release, officials told Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday.
During the second day of public hearings on the next state budget, Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said 770 inmates could go free earlier from prison under an expanded sentence credit program that would save $2 million.
“We currently authorize sentence credits for offenders for completing programs such as GED or maybe some vocational programs,” Schofield told the governor. “We recommend that we expand that program. All that does is continue to prepare the offender to be better prepared and be successful once they are released.”
Schofield said ending convict work crews could save nearly another $2 million, the cost of paying their guards. The inmates perform jobs for state and local agencies. Schofield said these programs could continue if the agencies are willing to pay the Correction Department for the work.
“Right now we’re absorbing that cost,” he said.
Also Tuesday, state Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau recommended closing six swimming pools at state parks and ending 28 jobs in the state’s groundwater protection program.
The state budget has been propped up the past two years by nearly $2 billion in federal economic stimulus money. With the loss of that money this year, departments are cutting services across state government.