Saturday, March 8, 2014
AUGUSTA — The board that oversees the county jail system has decided to spend nearly half of the money it gets from the state on programs to keep people from going back to jail.
The State Board of Corrections voted unanimously last week to devote $5.6 million to programs such as the Criminogenic Addiction and Recovery Academy at the Kennebec County jail that are geared toward addressing the underlying issues behind inmates’ crimes. The money will be doled out through grants that jails will earn through competitive bids by implementing programs that have proved successful at reducing recidivism, said the Board of Corrections chairman, Col. Mark Westrum, administrator of the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.
“We’re hopefully making people better than they were so when they’re back out in the communities, they’re not committing new crimes,” Westrum said. “That’s our ultimate goal.”
State funding for county corrections comes from two sources: the State Board of Corrections Investment Fund, which provided about $6 million in the 2013 fiscal year, and the Community Corrections Act, which provides $5.6 million per year.
The Board of Corrections now funnels about 20 percent of the Community Corrections Act money to the program. The remaining 80 percent is used for general operations.
However, when legislators consolidated the county jail system and created the Board of Corrections in 2009, they gave the board a mandate to reduce recidivism.
Since then, board members say, the state has failed to live up to its funding promises and the board has diverted money away from programs to maintain general operations. The move to devote all the community corrections funding to programs is meant to reverse that trend, Westrum said. The change will be phased in over three years.
“What we’re trying to say is if we’re ever going to get to some of the key issues that the board is supposed to oversee, that $5.6 million should be on a competitive grant basis,” Westrum said.
The board members are still unsure how they will replace the roughly $4.5 million in Community Corrections Act money that is being used to fund operations. Ideally, Westrum said, the new programs will reduce the in-house jail populations enough over the next three years that there will be no funding deficit.
Realistically, however, state lawmakers will have tremendous sway over how the plan works. Westrum hopes that the state will begin to keep its promise to fund jail operations adequately.
The legislation that created the board sought to create property tax relief by capping money raised by counties for corrections at 2008 levels, which totals $62.3 million. The state said it would make up the difference to meet the jails’ actual operating costs. A study conducted by Rod Miller of the U.S. Department of Justice found the state has never provided more than 5 percent of total funding, which is about half of what the system needs to operate effectively.
“The compromise that’s happened has put the jails and public at high risk,” Miller said last summer.
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said the phase-in will allow the Board of Corrections to figure out funding, give county jails time to develop programs, and allow for time to study whether those programs are working.
“It’s important to spend that money wisely,” Liberty said. “We really need to have purpose-driven incarceration. Jail costs $40,000 a year. There’s no savings in warehousing them.
Craig Crosby can be contacted at 621-5642 or at: