February 21, 2011

Another View: Unified corrections system a bad deal for Maine's counties

A recent editorial took too rosy a view of the real costs of state oversight of county jails.

It was disappointing to see in your Feb. 8 editorial ("Don't dismantle new corrections system") the persistence of some common misconceptions about the corrections system in Maine. And certainly the state legislators should, as you suggest, "take a good hard look" at the system.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John W. O’Connell is the administrator for Lincoln County.

Jails have inmates with drug abuse problems and often mental illness. Jails were never meant to be primary intake or treatment facilities for the mentally ill, but a disproportionate number of those arrested are suffering from mental illness. Much of the burden of dealing with the mentally ill falls onto local communities and jails. The state has come up short on its handling of the mentally ill; witness its inability to meet the terms of the AMHI consent decree.

You say jails are considered as sources of cheap labor? That is hardly the case when work parties paint some buildings in local communities (whose property tax dollars pay for the jails), they are supervised and transported, and whose work on these details reduces their jail terms by a day for each two days worked.

What about the claim that "transferring money from the state coffers to some counties is not part of the corrections system's mission"? First off, what state coffers? Second, the inmate costs, including debt service, at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset are about $160 per day. The state pays $22.96 for its inmates to be housed there; federal inmates are $104.

A final point is about how the "new" system has "stopped the repeated crowding at the Maine State Prison." Fact is, the Maine State Prison has chosen to leave some of its housing units vacant. Their inmate cost is around $100 per day but they can house inmates in county facilities at $22.96, a figure the state calculated as being fair.

From their perspective it makes sense. The county taxpayers do not agree.

 

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