$3.5M more needed to run unified jail system

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff
Posted April 02, 2009, at 8:59 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Board of Corrections, created last year to oversee a unified county jail system, will need about $3.5 million more in 2010 than it originally requested to run the state’s 15 facilities, board members told the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Thursday.

Committee members did not commit to recommending that amount to the Appropriations Committee next week, but the Maine County Commissioners Association issued a memorandum saying that if $3.5 million is not appropriated, “the new corrections system will be confronted with the closing of [jail] pods, reducing beds and eliminating [more] staff.”

The unified system was designed to freeze the property tax levy counties contribute to run the jails at the fiscal year 2008 level of $62.5 million. Original estimates for fiscal year 2010 put costs to run the jails at $69.45 million. The criminal justice panel asked the Board of Corrections to reduce the amount of the increase. A pre-liminary review later cut the amount to $67.2 million, and the most recent review of six jail budgets got the figure down to $65.9 million, a $3.4 million, or 3.1 percent, increase over funding for fiscal year 2008.

Details about the plan — which would convert the jails in Oxford, Franklin, Waldo and Piscataquis counties to 72-hour holding facilities — were outlined for the committee on Thursday. In addition to holding local arrests for a few days, the Waldo County Jail would become a re-entry facility for male inmates from the county jails and state prisons.

The new prerelease center would be modeled after the Dorothea Dix Re-Entry Program for female inmates at the former Bangor Mental Health Institute, according to Waldo County Sheriff Scott Storey, who is a member of the Board of Corrections. That program helps women within a year of their release dates make the transi-tion back into the community.

The changes are to be implemented on July 1.

The reorganization of the jails began more than a year ago when Gov. John Baldacci announced a plan in which the state would take over the county jails and put them under the authority of the Department of Corrections. That plan, designed to ease overcrowding in state prisons, according to the Maine County Commissioners Association, would have closed the jails in Oxford, Franklin, Waldo and Piscataquis counties. Under the Board of Corrections plan, those jails would be converted to 72-hour holding facilities.

Details about changes in the Piscataquis County Jail’s mission appeared Thursday to be up in the air because the facility earns about $400,000 a year by boarding pretrial defendants facing charges in federal court. Ralph Nichols, director of operations for the Department of Corrections, said after the meeting that no decision had been made about the fate of that facility.

In Oxford, Franklin and Waldo counties, 29 positions in the jails would be eliminated as of July 1 under the Board of Corrections plan. The budgets for those jails are expected to decrease in fiscal year 2011 because the unemployment benefits that must be paid to laid-off workers in 2010 will not be needed.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/04/02/news/35m-more-needed-to-run-unified-jail-system/ printed on September 17, 2014