Sunday, May 26, 2013
AUGUSTA — Proposals to move some prison inmates out of state and close prison units would have a negative impact on local communities, corrections department employees told lawmakers Wednesday.
The plans are part of Gov. John Baldacci's $6.1 billion budget proposal for the two-year period starting July 1. Baldacci's budget seeks to close an $838 million budget gap.
The governor's budget includes a proposal for the Maine Department of Corrections to send 118 inmates to a private prison run by the Corrections Corp. of America in Eden Prairie, Minn.
The department also proposes closing a 94-bed unit at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and a 90-bed unit at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren, and eliminating 39 positions.
On Wednesday, two legislative committees, Appropriations and Financial Affairs and Criminal Justice and Public Safety, held a joint public hearing on the proposals. Eleven people spoke against the plan; no one spoke in support of it.
Carol Waig, a staff development specialist at the Windham prison who also chairs the Windham Town Council, told legislators that shuffling prisoners and closing the 94-bed unit would impact local communities.
Minimum-security inmates are allowed out of prison, under supervision, to work on projects in area towns, including Windham, Gorham, Westbrook, Raymond, Gray and others, she said.
In 2008, they contributed 9,097 hours of labor to towns, valued at roughly $109,173, she said. In her town, the prisoners clean cemeteries and built the park across from Town Hall.
The work benefits the towns and the inmates, Waig said. They learn skills, and also connect with the community, which helps decrease chances they'll re-offend, she said.
It would be a ''terrible loss'' if communities did not have access to the prisoners' labor, Waig said.
The plan to move prisoners out of state would save Maine about $2 million. Bruce Hodsdon, president of the Maine State Employees Association, which represents some of the workers who would lose their jobs because of the move, told the lawmakers that cutting jobs in the state and sending dollars out of state doesn't make sense.
''In today's economy, each lost paycheck means fewer dollars spent in our communities, further strains on public budgets and greater demands on public services,'' Hodsdon said.
He suggested other cost-saving steps, including an expanded use of e-mail, sharing an information system with the state jail system, developing a more efficient way to transfer prisoners and leasing vehicles instead of buying them.
Zack Matthews, staff representative for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, also spoke against sending prisoners out of state. He criticized private prison companies, suggesting they have a track record of human rights violations.
''We understand the fiscal crisis, let's not add onto that a crisis of conscience,'' he said.
At the end of the hearing, Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson said the employees did a good job of presenting the case before lawmakers. All units in the department are working to find places to save money, he said. ''They're all engaged in every facility to see what we can do to minimize impact,'' he said.
Sen. Stanley Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, co-chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said after the hearing that shipping prisoners out of state makes no sense, and his panel would work to come up with a better plan.
Prisoners who have worked to get privileges in the system would be penalized under the plan, essentially being put back under tighter control, said Gerzofsky.
''We'll teach them a lesson -- don't try to behave, don't try to be good,'' he said. ''It just doesn't make sense.''
Staff Writer Matt Wickenheiser can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: