A medium-security facility at Maine Correctional Center in Windham is targeted for closure because the building is old and in need of repair, according to Superintendent Scott Burnheimer.

The 94-bed unit was included last week in cuts detailed in Gov. Baldacci’s two-year budget proposal as part of an effort to close an $838 million gap. Fourteen positions at the correctional center are also eliminated in the budget proposal, which now goes to the Legislature for review.

The facility, which houses medium-security prisoners, was built in the 1950s and needs extensive work to the heating and electrical systems, Burnheimer said.

“By closing the building, they can also put off the repairs,” he said. “It’s cost avoidance as much as cost savings.”

If the proposal is approved, the Maine Correctional Center would also lose 10 regular correctional officer positions and four temporary positions, Burnheimer said. Officers would be let go on a basis of seniority. The Corrections Department would try to find spots for the laid-off officers at other facilities, and the temporary officers would be placed last, he said.

If an officer retires, that position would not be filled and would instead be included as one of the cuts, sparing another officer, Burnheimer said. But, with the economy in a downturn, the spots have not been opening as often as in the past, he added.

David Gott, head of the state employees’ union at the facility, said the union was meeting this weekend to decide how it should react to Baldacci’s proposal.

The two-year budget also included the closure of a housing units at the Bolduc Correctional Center in Warren, Charleston Correctional Facility and the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport. The proposal also includes a plan to ship 118 prisoners to an out-of-state private prison.

In a briefing last week, Baldacci said the cuts to the Corrections budget were part of a larger plan to cut the state budget across the board rather than make a few, larger cuts.

“I recognized early last year that the national economy was deteriorating, even if we weren’t sure how bad things would get, and I took immediate action to reduce state spending,” he said. “Every part of state government, and the programs and services it supports, has a responsibility to share in the sacrifices imposed by this recession.”

Burnheimer said the loss of officers may slow reaction time to incidents at the prison, where personnel in one sector are used to back up their counterparts in other areas.

Sending prisoners out of state is a controversial subject for family members who visit prisoners, though Baldacci said the state would move prisoners who have minimal family ties to Maine. The move would save around $30 per day per prisoner, Baldacci said.

Keeping prisoners close to home is the ideal situation, Burnheimer said. But, he said, the economic realities are unavoidable.

“This is a drastic move by the state. But we are in drastic times,” said Burnheimer.

As the Legislature and Baldacci discuss changes to the governor’s proposal, the Corrections Department could continue to be a source of spending cuts, Burnheimer said.

“The budget is a moving target, and more or less things can change. Things can get worse if the governor needs more cuts,” he said.


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