Charleston blasts prison cuts plan

Posted Dec. 16, 2008, at 9:28 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:05 a.m.

CHARLESTON, Maine — In a region hard-pressed for jobs and dependent upon restitution projects to help stretch municipal budgets, the state’s move to eliminate 15 positions and relocate 45 inmates from the Charleston Correctional Facility is unwelcome news.

Gov. John Baldacci announced Tuesday that to help offset a $140 million shortfall in state revenues, he plans to close a dormitory at the minimum security facility in Charleston and eliminate 15 local jobs. That move, which will require legislative approval, also will mean relocation of 45 of the 145 inmates currently housed at the facility, Denise Lord, Department of Corrections deputy commissioner, said Tuesday. The cuts at Charleston will amount to about $1 million for a full year, she said.

The governor’s proposed supplemental budget includes a total reduction of 24 positions in corrections, Lord stated. In addition to the positions at Charleston, the cuts will include two probation officers, two juvenile community corrections posts and two positions in the office of advocacy.

As soon as the announcement of the cuts at the minimum security facility was made Tuesday, Charleston Selectman Terri-Lynn Hall fired off an e-mail to the governor.

“By them making the cuts, 15 jobs and 50 inmates, the taxpayers are going to lose out because the [restitution] work they were providing for us will now have to be paid out of tax dollars,” Hall said Tuesday.

The inmates provide more than 15,000 hours of labor each year to nonprofit organizations and towns in the region, cutting brush, mowing cemetery lawns, painting, and doing maintenance, carpentry and other construction work.

Hall said the state pays no taxes on the prison facility, but that the assessed value of the land and buildings equal as much as 75 percent of the entire town’s worth. She said the restitution work by inmates helps make up for the lost taxes and helps the town stretch its budget.

“I think it’s very unjust in these economic times to put the burden like this on our taxpayers,” Hall said.

The Department of Corrections recognizes the restitution projects are important to the region so that work will continue, Lord said. “The department has always been very committed to public restitution; we performed considerable amounts of public restitution before we opened the second housing unit,” she said.

Lord said the cuts were not what the DOC would like to see. “These are not easy decisions; in the best of all possible worlds this is not something we feel good about doing,” she said. “Our folks up there are hard workers, and they run a great facility.”

The Charleston facility was targeted for cuts for two primary reasons, according to Lord. She said the positions that will be eliminated were limited-period positions from the start. The jobs were added several years ago but were never given a “permanent head count”; they always were considered limited period, she said. Since they were added, the Legislature has had to reauthorize the positions and include an appropriation every budget cycle, according to Lord.

In addition, the inmates at Charleston are the types of prisoners who can be assimilated into the county jail system, Lord said. She said the DOC will begin to slow down the transfers to Charleston and start to use the four county jails with which the state has a contract: the York, Cumberland, and Somerset county jails and Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.

Asked if further cuts could be expected at the Charleston facility, Lord said she could not say. “I always hate to say yes or no, because we are in a very volatile situation, and it’s hard to give people the kind of assurances they’re looking for,” she said. The DOC is finishing its biennial budget, and more cost savings will be investigated, she noted.

“We’re obviously going to take all the steps we possibly can to make sure that people have other employment options,” Lord said.

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