Thursday, May 23, 2013
By Craig Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org
AUGUSTA -- County officials who gathered at the State House on Wednesday expecting a debate over a recent decision by two jails to quit taking inmates from other counties will have to wait at least another week.
The Board of Corrections steered clear of any discussion about recent decisions by administrators in Somerset and York counties to stop taking overflow inmates from outside counties.
"I believe there is some work happening behind the scenes to resolve some these inmate movement problems," Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, a member of the board, said after the meeting. "We hope to have a resolution in the upcoming weeks."
Dozens of county government and corrections officials, including Somerset County Administrator Larry Post and Sheriff Barry DeLong, attended the meeting, but the only mention of improving inmate movement practices came during a presentation by a financial firm hired to study the state jail system.
The Somerset County Jail in East Madison has closed down an entire pod and announced earlier this month that it will no longer accept inmates from other counties, known as boarders.
Somerset County will continue to swap inmates from other counties for safety or other reasons and accept federal inmates, for which the county is paid $93 a day.
York County also announced several months ago that it would no longer board out-of-county prisoners. That leaves just Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset and Cumberland County jails to ease the burden of 11 other jails statewide.
Somerset County Jail officials have said the decision to cut off boarders was based on the state's failure to follow through with additional revenue promised during the 2008 process spearheaded by then-Gov. John Baldacci to unify state and county correctional systems. Somerset county officials say the county continues to pay an unfair share of jail operations cost and bond payments for construction of the new jail.
The state pays just $22 per day for inmates from other counties boarded at the jail.
Franklin County officials say Somerset County's decision creates a logistical nightmare for them, even as they acknowledge and support the reasons behind the decision.
Liberty, who also serves on the state Board of Corrections that was created to oversee the county correctional system, has said he doesn't see any significant impact on the Kennebec jail because its excess inmates are typically sent to Two Bridges.
But the bigger issue is one of statewide significance, he said.
The Board of Corrections is expected to meet next week with an eye toward finalizing a budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. Liberty believes the budget process may help the resolve some of the issues around inmate movement. Liberty said a resolution is critical, particularly when it comes to using programs aimed at reducing inmate recidivism.
"My largest interest lies in finding effective programs," Liberty said. "That's only going to happen if we find ways to move inmates around the system."
The idea behind unification was to lower costs by reducing recidivism and getting the most out of jails and programs.
But the findings of an in-depth financial study by Buxton-based RHR Smith & Company revealed a system that has failed to develop ways to effectively exchange data between the county and states.
"You have to balance responsibility and accountability," Charemon Davis, of RHR, told the board Wednesday. "It's very hard to make people accountable for things they're not responsible for."
Unifying corrections offers the potential for decreasing costs while improving operations, according to the report, but Maine has never really unified the system. The way counties code, budget and allocate money is inconsistent, making it difficult for the Board of Corrections to make sense of the data. The study also determined there are no clear goals, and roles and responsibilities are ill-defined.
"There's a lot of money going through the system and not a lot of policy and law about how it's going to work," said Dianne Tilton, of RHR.
Moreover, there is no system in place that offers real-time information that allows jail administrators to find out where there are openings for inmates, or to streamline transportation of inmates between jails.
The result is lots of wasted time and fuel.
RHR recommends simplifying financial reporting and applying for grants for specific programs that help the state or a region. Tilton said the board also needs to do a better job of defending its budget to state legislators.
"This is an important system," she said. "It needs to be funded adequately."
Craig Crosby -- 621-5642