By GLENN ROSS
The Maine Sheriffs' Association would like to comment in response to a recent editorial on the Maine Board of Corrections (Our View, "Jail system saves money, should be preserved," July 29).
About four years ago, Gov. John Baldacci presented the Legislature with a plan for a state takeover of the county jail system. It was promoted as a way to save $20 million in property taxes based upon numbers which had not been validated.
The savings did not materialize as promised. County commissioners and sheriffs could have let the plan fail or work with the state. The alternative plan created the State Board of Corrections to oversee all state and county issues and budgets. Initially, board membership primarily consisted of individuals without correctional experience. The counties worked collaboratively and successfully to add county representation to the board.
Today the system struggles from lack of state funding. Specifically, jail budgets have been flat funded for four years. The state has not complied with the inverse debt component of the law.
This is a multimillion-dollar annual loss to the counties. Some counties are paying debt service from operational budgets and others are avoiding capital expenditures and repairs.
The struggles are not a result of a failure to work together. Rather, they are a symptom of a radical system change that lacked sufficient pre- planning, supporting legislation and financial commitment by the state.
The National Institute of Corrections was brought in for an expert review of the system. Its report states: "The difficulties encountered in Maine in the past four years explain why no other state has tried a similar approach. We believe that no one will be looking at Maine as a model."
Yet county officials continue to work within the new system and with the Legislature to create a coordinated county correctional system that works. Maine must live up to its inverse debt funding commitment and work with the jails to ensure that proper annual funding is provided if we are to keep dangerous individuals off our streets.
Glenn Ross is sheriff of Penobscot County and president of the Maine Sheriffs' Association.Tweet