Maine Jail Bill Wins Support

AUGUSTA, Maine — A bill that would grant greater authority to the Maine State Board of Corrections has won initial approval in both the House and Senate. L.D. 1824 primarily directs the board to establish an essential programs and services funding formula for county jails, and to review county jail management models implemented in other states. The measure received a 130-16 vote of support in the House and a 31-4 vote of support in the Senate.

“The Board of Corrections was charged with goals including increased efficiencies and reduced recidivism, but didn’t have the tools to accomplish them,” Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, House chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, told the Portland Herald Press. “This bill provides those tools and other means to improve the consolidated system.”

State, county and local officials collaborated on the language for L.D. 1824, which includes 30 different provisions. Among them are directives to create a more controlled budget process that better anticipates and controls cost increases; provide incentives for counties that improve efficiency within their jails; define benchmarks for accountability; and create a system-wide capital improvement plan.

“The bill will allow for the Board of Corrections to be truly successful by granting them the necessary authority to create efficiencies and properly manage Maine’s correctional facilities,” said Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, in an interview with the Portland Press Herald. “The board will finally be able to focus less on budgets and more on reducing recidivism and other important priorities.”

The state’s current county jail system was created by the legislature in 2008, and has consistently faced funding challenges. As recently as December 2013, the State Board of Corrections, which was established by former Gov. John Baldacci, told jail operators to prepare for no funding increases as well as potential layoffs and closures. The board then narrowly approved an $80.3 million budget for FY 2013-2014, an increase of just 0.6 percent.

Despite the modest increase, many administrators at the state’s 15 county jails say not enough funding has been made available to maintain appropriate staffing levels. U.S. Department of Justice reviewer Rod Miller supported this claim, and in July 2013 review told Board of Corrections members that Maine’s county jail system was “possibly about to run over a cliff.”

The approved FY 2013-2014 budget still fell nearly $4 million short of the amount county jail operators requested to avoid closures and staff reductions. Currently, the state contributes roughly $20 million to the county jail system, while an additional $62 million is paid for through county property taxes. This funding arrangement was established under the same 2008 legislation that created the statewide jail system.