Envision Maine report inaccurate on corrections system

Posted Oct. 20, 2010, at 7:12 p.m.

The report “Reinventing Maine Government,” commissioned by GrowSmart Maine and written by Envision Maine, contains elements of a healthy strategic vision for our state as we prepare our government, communities and public infrastructure for the 21st century.

Unfortunately, the report identifies a level of savings for corrections that is unrealistic and based upon faulty assumptions and questionable arithmetic.

The Board of Corrections, established by the Legislature in 2008, has, in fact, been engaged in its own task of “reinventing” and is creating a unified state and county corrections system that meets our stated goal of “One Maine One System.”

We are a volunteer citizen board that has had a beneficial impact for property taxpayers in Maine.

In the three years that we have been at work on the “reinvention” of the unified system, a cumulative property tax savings of more than $15 million has been achieved.

According to the LD 1 report done by the State Planning Office, county property tax assessments increased only 1.7 percent between 2008 and 2009.

The legislation that created the Board of Corrections capped property tax assessments for jails and they cannot be increased from 2008 levels. Had jails grown at their historical rate of 9 percent, county taxes would have grown by 6.1 percent.

Still, there is much more to do and as we move forward with our partners in the counties and at the state level, it is critical that we are all working with the same vision and, importantly, with the same sets of financial and performance data.

It is in these areas that the Board of Corrections seeks to clarify some of the assumptions and conclusions of the Envision Maine report.

Here are the critical points to be made:

The “Reinventing Maine” report states that the annual cost per Department of Corrections (state) inmate is $93,500. This is not correct. The actual annual cost for a state prisoner is $43,363 — a decline of 1.7 percent from 2009 to 2010.

The report’s erroneous number appears to have been calculated by dividing all state and county corrections costs by only the number of state inmates. This is a flawed approach that doubles prisoner cost.

These incorrect assumptions and calculations lead to Envision Maine’s claim that $100 million can be saved within Maine’s correctional system. But let’s consider the facts. The Department of Corrections budget, responsible for all of Maine’s adult, juvenile and probation clients is $143 million, and all county correctional services are budgeted at $79 million. Achieving a $100 million reduction in correctional costs would require the closure of every county correctional facility and then some, or two-thirds of the state prison and probation system.

The members of the Board of Corrections agree with Envision Maine’s intent to guide our state toward making “critical investments in tomorrow’s prosperity,” and with the report’s contention that “Reinventing government isn’t a choice, it’s already happening.”

The work of the Board of Corrections and our partners at the state and county levels speaks for itself. “Reinventing Maine Government” gives no mention of the significant changes resulting from the unified corrections system.

The unified corrections system is more efficient and has saved all Maine taxpayers several million dollars.

The combined cost of state and county correctional services for adult offenders has actually decreased by $1,803,505.

None of this is to say that we have arrived at our goals. The work continues.

However, it is critically important that as work progresses and we develop recommendations for “critical investments” in Maine’s future sustainability, we work from clear and correct sets of financial information and performance data.

Neale Duffett is an attorney in Portland and chair of the Board of Corrections

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