AUGUSTA, Maine — A funding proposal for Maine’s state jails passed the Maine State Board of Corrections on Aug. 20. The proposal states that the Board of Corrections will fully fund Maine’s 15 jails for the remainder of the fiscal year. This is a risky move, since the board currently has less than 25 percent of the money to fulfill the funding requests. The vote passed with the expectation that the legislature will provide financial support to cover the remaining costs of the funding.
Members of the board voted with an outcome of 7 to 1. This result means that the board will be responsible for providing — in full — the estimated amount of money each county needs. An estimate of the total amount of funding requested is unavailable until all counties have submitted their funding requests.
The board claims that it is crucial that each county receives its required funding. Without the appropriate amount of money, jails throughout the state could experience financial setbacks that endanger employees and result in numerous layoffs, forced closure of cell blocks, issuing summons instead of making arrests for misdemeanors, not accepting inmates transferred from other facilities, not transporting inmates to court and requiring the additional help of local police officers to perform basic operational duties. This, in turn, would severely inhibit remaining correctional employees’ ability to keep jails running smoothly.
Not all members of the board are completely in agreement with the successful vote, however. Chairman Mark Westrum recently stated that the board needs to prepare itself for harsh rebukes from representatives. “I think it’s responsible for us to put this back in the hands of the legislature…I just want to make sure the board is prepared to deal with the end result of what might happen,” he said in a statement.
Guy Desjardins, Adroscoggin County Sheriff, acknowledges the potential criticism the board may face as a result of the vote, but noted that he would rather face their rebukes than continue operating jails on inadequate budgets. He claimed that insufficient funds for jails could lead to injuries and lawsuits as a result of scanty security.
The Board of Corrections has been in place since 2009 when Gov. John Baldacci created it to help oversee the network of 15 county jails. Baldacci’s goal in creating the board was to help reduce operating costs by creating a unified network of efficiently-run state prisons.
The legislature will address the subject of bonds when it gathers this fall. While the board hopes to have the legislature’s support with the funding plan, the issue may not be addressed until next April.