Inmate overpopulation strains Aroostook County jail budget

Posted March 04, 2011, at 6:42 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — On and off for several years, personnel at the Aroostook County Jail have been responsible for the care of more than 100 inmates at the facility, which is approximately 30 people over capacity.

The numbers not only have been a strain on the corrections staff and administration, County Administrator Doug Beaulieu said Thursday, they also have drained the county’s pocketbook.

Beaulieu predicted the jail budget will be at least $131,000 in the red by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, and he is looking to the state Board of Corrections to assume responsibility for that debt.

“When we started the fiscal year, the board underappropriated us,” Beaulieu explained. “We ended up receiving $80,000 less than we asked for. On top of that, the jail population is at an all-time high. We are equipped to house 72 people at the jail. At this point, we are between 30 or 40 inmates over capacity.”

That has forced The County to pay more for staffing and for the care of inmates. All of that, he explained Thursday, has caused the jail budget to be overspent.

“It is a big problem,” the administrator said. “We have brought it to the attention of the Board of Corrections, but they have not addressed the issue yet. We were underfunded to start with and we made them aware of that at several points. I think that they are going to have to fund us to help us meet our budget.”

Beaulieu said the budget is in the red for several reasons. Housing more inmates means The County has had to spend more to feed, clothe and care for them. A number of inmates have needed expensive medical care and several have been so ill they have required hospitalization, which has further strained the budget.

At the same time, the jail has been so full that it has been forced to transfer prisoners to other jails in the state. Aroostook primarily sends its inmates to jails in Somerset, York or Cumberland counties.

“It costs money to transport prisoners to these other jails, and that is an expense that we have had to take on,” he said. “When you are in southern Maine, it is not as expensive to transport a prisoner to another jail because they are pretty close together. But this is Aroostook County. We have to take our prisoners hundreds of miles to the nearest facility, and the cost of fuel to get them there keeps rising.”

“Because of these issues, we have had to authorize more in overtime and we’ve needed more part-time help to assist us,” he continued. “It is something we tried to communicate to the corrections board, but we were still underfunded.”

In 2008, all of the jails in the state came under a unified jail system overseen by the newly formed Board of Corrections. Budgeting for the jails was taken from the individual county commissions and budget committees and absorbed by the state.

Prior to the creation of the corrections board, Beaulieu said, The County addressed the jail budget in another way. If the jail overspent its budget, county officials were able to balance it by using surplus funds. Now, they are not allowed to do so.

“Now, we must go to the board,” Beaulieu explained. “We had to go to them last year. We would have closed the fiscal year in the red last year if we did not get supplemental money from the board.”

The administrator said he expects to hear something from the board in the coming weeks.

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