Prison housing might avoid cuts

Posted March 04, 2009, at 10:04 p.m.

WARREN, Maine — Due in part to legislative pressure, it looks as if Maine’s prison farm will be spared the budget-cutting knife — even though the state originally had called for the Bolduc Correctional Facility to reduce its inmate population by half as a cost-saving measure.

Officials from the Department of Corrections last week presented to the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee alternative ways of saving money, so that housing units at the Bolduc facility and others in Machiasport, Windham and Charleston would not be closed, said Associate Commissioner Denise Lord on Wednesday. Other budget-cutting proposals included sending some prisoners to an out-of-state facility.

“We looked at energy efficiency, we looked at efficiencies with medication administration, at unnecessary phone lines, computers, pagers, food service,” Lord said. “The overall goal was to be able to find sufficient funds to keep from closing the four housing units. Every facility contributed.”

While committee members have not yet taken formal action on the proposal, their reaction was positive, according to Lord, who said that the Bolduc facility in particular sparked “considerable legislative interest.”

The minimum-security facility, long known as the prison farm, houses only prisoners who have less than five years to go on their sentences and who participate in programs designed to ease them back into society. Prisoners there make license plates, are taught job skills and also provide towns and groups in the area with free community service.

“The issue has been important for a couple of reasons,” said Sen. Chris Rector, R-Thomaston. “It reduces recidivism and is one of the most effective programs we have. And it offsets some of the stigma and costs of having the prison in our region.”

Warren Town Manager Grant Watmough said that Bolduc prisoners cut brush and pick up trash along the roadside and have built four Little League dugouts recently, among other community service contributions.

“The facility needs to continue as it is,” Watmough said Wednesday. “With the work force that’s provided to our town, we’ve gotten thousands and thousands of dollars of work provided at no cost.”

Warren also houses the 960-bed Maine State Prison, and Watmough said that other than the community service from Bolduc prisoners, there is very little benefit that the town recoups from hosting the two facilities. Neither facility pays taxes to Warren.

“This is one thing that the prison system can do for the town of Warren, to pay us back,” he said.

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