Two seemingly disparate actions recently at Wyoming Correctional Facility were actually parts of the same operation: Cutting the costs of incarcerating increasingly large numbers of prisoners.
On the same day that five inmates shovelled food waste into neat composting rows on a former parking lot just outside the jail's fence, 648 other inmates shuffled into some of the six new dormitories and three service buildings they will occupy.
Prison operating costs, like the $30 million Wyoming expansion, are climbing faster and higher than the savings achieved through a variety of programs, like composting garbage and recycling dry materials. The cost of keeping one inmate for a year averages $25,000.
Last year, the Department of Correctional Services spent $3.5 million of its $1.2 billion budget to remove prison-generated waste, said Wyoming Superintendent Melvin L. Williams. But any saving during a time of a billion dollar-plus annual operating deficit is valuable.
"Things are difficult here now," Williams said. "Recently, I had to dismiss about 10 people, a nurse, clerks, counselors and teachers lost their jobs in the budget squeeze . . . The Wyoming layoffs are part of a $28 million statewide cost-cutting that saw 300 corrections officers and 400 non-uniformed personnel dismissed.
The new 100-bed dormitories and support buildings inside the razor-wire topped fencing will solve an overcrowding problem at the medium-security prison, ending double bunking, Williams said. He didn't know for how long. The state's prison population now stands at 55,000 and continues to climb.
The Wyoming Correctional Facility inmate population has tripled during its six-year history. It opened in 1984 with 500 inmate beds and has jumped every two years until early this month when it had reached 1,530 beds.
For a time, its gym was used as a dormitory. That ended when double bunking started, but a new gym has been built to serve the expanding population.
The composting, directed by prison horticulture teacher James Beitz is starting with food garbage from Wyoming and the adjacent Attica Correctional Facility. Perhaps later, the prison will accept composting material from the Village of Attica, said Deputy Superintendent Ronald A. DePiazza.
Beitz and DePiazza say that the compost piles will extend in rows 10 feet wide and 6 feet high. Temperatures inside the rows will exceed 100 degrees as the bacteria-fueled changes occur.
"We may even add some cow manure to speed the process," Beitz said. He expects that the conversion of waste to useable fertilizing material will take eight weeks.
The finished material will be spread on and nourish the Attica prison farm fields and also nourish the various landscaped plots around the two prisons.
More importantly from a dollar viewpoint, the two prisons will save the costs of sending food waste to a landfill. "During October, we paid $3,900 in landfill fees," DePiazza said. "Composting will save us a third of those monthly costs."
Williams said that Corrections Commissioner Thomas A. Coughlin III has asked administrators at all state prisons to consider starting composting operations.
The Wyoming Correctional Facility is just one of the prisons that have started to compost solid waste, but it was the state prison system's pioneer in recycling. For three years Wyoming inmates have been recovering newsprint, cardboard, metal cans and lately have begun handling plastics.
Nearly all the recycled materials are sold through U.S Recycling Industries of Cheektowaga.
"Each time we get a truckload, they come and get it," said Corrections Officer Ted Hicks, who supervises the shredding and compacting of the recyclable materials. U.S. Recycling Industries of Cheektowaga does not get much shredded newsprint from the prisons. Hicks said that the shredded paper is sent to the Attica prison farm for use as bedding for the 80 milking cows and other animals in the 260-head herd. The farm no longer is operated by local prison authorities. Cor-Craft, the Correctional Services Department's industrial arm, runs it, Williams said.
Wyoming Correctional's recycling enterprise is fed materials from all Western New York state prisons and the Village of Attica. Prison trucks deliver the recyclable material when they pick up the milk produced on the farm, Hicks said.
For now, the Wyoming recycling operation is still paying U.S. Recycling the pass-through costs for renting a shredder and compacter. But DePiazza said that when two new facilities, the expanded Albion women's prison, and the new Livingston Correctional Facility are opened and begin sending their solid waste, the recycling should begin showing a cash profit as well as a saved outlay.