AUGUSTA, Maine — Efforts to economize on Maine prison costs under a jail consolidation law will have saved taxpayers more than $19 million between 2009 and 2013, lawmakers were told Wednesday.
Maine Board of Corrections Chairman Neale Duffett told the Appropriations Committee that the savings have resulted from things like a single accounting system within the 15 county jails and exchanges of prisoners. The state Department of Corrections was able to save nearly $3 million by not sending some of inmates out of state because beds became available in the county jails.
In addition, four proposed county jail construction projects were canceled.
“The reinvention of Maine corrections is already well under way,” said Duffett. “It’s working.”
He called the net savings estimate of $19.2 million conservative and “highly defensible.”
Further savings are envisioned through joint or collective purchases of food and medical supplies between the county and state corrections systems, said George Jabar, a Kennebec County commissioner who also serves on the Board of Corrections. While not much in the area of bulk or joint purchases has been done so far, prison officials continue to work toward collective buying, said Jabar.
The Board of Corrections, which was created in 2008 as part of a larger government consolidation effort, is requesting $3.5 million for each of the next two fiscal years. The state Corrections Department, which has six adult and two juvenile facilities, has a general fund budget request for about $330 million over two years.
Counties are under pressure to control costs in light of a state law that sets a $62.5 million cap on property taxes that can be used to support the daily operation of the county jails.
“The ever-increasing costs of utilities, food, fuel, collective bargaining and capital needs present real challenges for the counties, costs largely beyond their control,” said Amy Fowler, president of the Maine County Commissioners Association and Waldo County commissioner, in support of the corrections board budget request.
Together, the county and state systems house 3,500 prisoners.