Each year, the Department of Corrections struggles to keep up with the increasing costs of housing inmates. Many inmates pass away while incarcerated each year and the families of most of these individuals bury their loved ones. There are situations, though, where an inmate doesn’t have any living relatives or his or her designee declines to accept the individual’s remains for burial. In this case, DOC pays for the cost of cremation.
Sen. Don Barrington has filed Senate Bill 1069 to allow the agency to deduct the cost of the cremation from any funds the inmate has accumulated while incarcerated.
“Although DOC doesn’t currently spend a lot of money on cremations, there’s still no reason that inmates or their families or designees shouldn’t be responsible for the expense,” said Barrington. “My bill would allow DOC to pay for the cremation using any money the inmate had before transferring the individual’s belongings to the designee.”
The measure was approved unanimously by the Senate Public Safety Committee Thursday.
Within three days of entering the custody of DOC, inmates are required to name a designee to receive whatever possessions and money they have should they pass away while in jail. During incarceration, inmates build up what is referred to as a “trust fund” which consists of funds they earn through working in the prison and money they receive from their families for toiletries and other necessities. Upon an inmate’s death, if the designee declines to pay for burial and DOC has to cremate the individual, the agency will deduct the cost of that procedure from the balance due to the designee.
According to the Department of Corrections, there were only ten cremations performed in FY ’11 at a cost of roughly $350 each or a total of $3,500. The agency expects that number to increase, however, as the number of inmates age 50 and over has steadily increased in recent decades. In 1980, there were only 85 inmates in that age bracket making up less than five percent of the prison population whereas last year there were over 3,800 making up 15 percent of the population.
“Just as the aging Baby Boomers are affecting our state’s economy, they’re also impacting our prisons,” explained Barrington. “With an aging prison population, DOC officials are concerned that the number of cremations will increase significantly in the next decade. We need to make sure that the state isn’t burdened with these growing expenses.”
SB 1069 will next be heard by the full Senate.