WARREN – One of the more pressing issues of the day is overcrowding in the state prisons, which are administrated by the Maine Department of Corrections. There is capacity currently required for hundreds of excess inmates statewide.

It has been a long-standing practice for state government to not relieve overcrowding by spending more money. In fact, the custom has been to use resources available to alleviate such a problem via double-bunking and similar means.

The situation also calls for viable programs to make it more difficult for inmates to reoffend or initially end up in prison. They should ultimately cost the public less and make it more efficient for inmates to exit the system when warranted.

Legislators need to have a continuing dialogue, through sociological studies, that is unbiased and scientific. This information is sorely needed by legislators who should serve the public by fostering productive changes in society instead of practicing an ineffective status quo.

When the people of the state of Maine understand the magnitude of the socio-economic losses involved, positive change will occur.

These losses are due to the lack of proper investment in Maine’s human resources, which specifically includes those incarcerated. Proper investment does not mean more facilities and programs that perpetuate the status quo. It doesn’t mean shipping inmates to other states, which is being seriously considered.

But it should mean using sociological data from studies to alter the inmate dilemma, as well as foster a successful parole program. The result can only benefit the public.

A much more effective home confinement program for many nonviolent inmates would begin to alleviate the pressure on an already overcrowded system.

The public isn’t aware that home confinement in Maine is barely being utilized. Inmates can begin home confinement with 14 months remaining on their sentence as long as they’ve served half of their sentence. Use of monitoring devices, such as electronic bracelets, would make the home confinement program much less expensive for Maine — and more successful.

The reinstatement of a parole program would be a major step toward reducing the costs to the public and overcrowding. Maine decommissioned its parole program in 1976 due to lack of effective operations, not because a successful program isn’t possible.

There are successful parole programs in 38 states. Maine could learn much from the successful parole programs of other states in New England, such as Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The economy of Maine suffers due to lack of sentencing reform. This has led to the high recidivism rate of a failed probation system.

The causes for the probation revocations in Maine of many inmates would he considered frivolous in many other states.

Many current inmates do not need to be in prison. There is a need for viable programs that foster realistic growth and transformation. Instead, Maine has a culture which includes revolving doors at prisons, which costs everyone too much money.

In order to resolve the puzzles that are the correctional systems in the United States, we can also gain knowledge from countries that are more advanced than we are. We live in a relatively young country compared with those in Europe.

Western Europe is much more open to the possibility of the transformation of those incarcerated. There is a much broader understanding of human psychology as it relates to everyday, practical life.

Crime rates are lower. The lengths for incarceration for all crimes are lower on average, and the recidivism rates for incarceration are lower.

What a sad state of affairs for our country when we imprison more people than any other country in the world.

It is not that we have more criminals or mishandle our system of justice, as we have the best criminal justice system in the world. What is wrong is the way we handle those who violate our laws.

Being human should mean evolving towards the humane. We are all connected. When we throw away opportunities for inmate transformation, we are throwing away opportunities for everyone. 

– Special to The Press Herald