AUGUSTA, Maine — Efforts to reduce state prison costs under a jail consolidation law will save taxpayers more than $19.2 million between 2009 and 2013, according to officials.
Maine Board of Corrections Chairman Neale Duffett told the Appropriations Committee that a single accounting system within the 15 county jails and exchanges of prisoners have resulted in significant savings. In addition, 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 county jails.
Four proposed county jail construction projects were canceled, further reducing costs.
“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 planned 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, Jabar said.
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 corrections department, which manages 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.
The county and state systems house 3,500 prisoners combined.