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Our View: Fewer inmates will relieve pressure on jails

A legislative committee looking at jail funding should focus on initiatives that lowers the jail population.

me

Maine has 15 county jails, in places as different as Madison, Portland and Rockland, each with different histories, each operated by different county governments and drawing workers from different labor markets.

But there is one thing they have in common — though some more than others, all jails would benefit from fewer inmates, as would the state as a whole.

The Legislature’s criminal justice and public safety committee and other stakeholders are now working to find a permanent solution to the decade-old problems surrounding jail funding. Following the group’s first meeting, both the chairwoman of the committee, Rep. Charlotte Warren of Hallowell, and Randall Liberty, the state corrections commissioner, told the Bangor Daily News that much of the group’s focus should be on reducing the jail population.

They’re right.

The problem is at least 10 years in the making. With jail costs rising, Gov. John Baldacci in 2008 capped the amount of county taxpayer dollars that could be used for funding. The new Board of Corrections was left on the hook for any budget increase.

However, the state never followed through. Costs kept increasing, but counties found it difficult to get additional state money. The next governor, Paul LePage, did not like the way the Board of Corrections was set up — he fought against additional funding, and eventually let the board die through neglect.

LePage toward the end of his second term put forward a halfhearted plan to address jail funding, including closing up to five jails. But he never took them seriously, and neither did anyone else. So jails were left to operate without any way to raise more money.

The Legislature has provided relief here and there, but the structural problem persists. A series of bills aimed at the issue were considered last session, but lawmakers instead opted for a study group overseen by the criminal justice committee. It met for the first time last month.

Now, counties pay about 80 percent of jail costs while the state picks up the rest. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in changing the formula, but lawmakers will have to decide who pays for budget increases, and who gets to decide when those increases are necessary, in a way that adequately funds jails while preventing overspending. There must be a mechanism that pushes jails to coordinate efforts to install best practices and find efficiencies.

Beyond that, however, the most effective route lawmakers can take is to advance policies that cut the number of jail inmates — and cutting the number of inmates means cutting the number of people held before trial.

Nationwide, about two-thirds of jail inmates have yet to be convicted of the crime in question. The same holds true in Maine, and while the overall jail population has fallen in the last decade, the number of inmates held pretrial has increased.

Why? The system relies too heavily on bail, and when defendants can’t afford it, they are left for days, weeks, even months waiting for adjudication.

Sometimes, too, people are arrested when they could be issued citations, or they are incarcerated for minor probation violations.

Such incarcerations do not increase public safety; in fact, they may do the opposite. People held pretrial are more likely to be convicted and receive harsher sentences, adding to our costs. They are also more likely to recidivate.

Maine should cut back on the use of bail and expand pretrial release, as well as alternative housing and monitoring programs. Law enforcement should be pushed to avoid nuisance arrests.

In addition, more violators, when appropriate, should be pushed toward mental health and addiction treatment rather than jail. Treatment and re-entry programs should be expanded to cut down on recidivism.

A lot of these ideas came forward last legislative session, many of them in a bill that Warren crafted with help from sheriffs. Now is the time for the committee to figure how Maine can use them correctly.

I’m 25 years old from Maine. I have a 20 year-old fiance named and a beautiful 1 year-old son. I was arrested for selling 5 hydrocodone to a former friend of mine who was wearing a wire.

I’ve paid fines, previously for weed possession, but other than that I don’t have a record.

I was sentenced to two years with all but 3 months suspended. Right now, I’m in County Jail doing the 3 months. When I get out of here I’ll have probation for two years. That means that if I get caught drinking or using drugs in the next two years, I’ll go back to jail for two years.

I wasn’t offered the option of rehab. I’ll get released back to my home town, my family & all my old friends.

Two years for five pills. And I missed seeing my baby boy walk his first steps.

Wish me luck.

Ghost

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I hope things are looking up.  It might not feel that way, though.

We listen to country every weekend mornings.  I prefer rap and R & B.  But, it’s all we got.  I miss good music, but we get to listen to church music which isn’t all that bad, makes me cry usually.

In art we are making a book with all our art work and writings.,  I drew a picture of a girl.  I took half a face from a magazine and cut it in half and drew the other half.  It came out sooo good and wrote a few poems.  One was about finding God.

If I was my old sef when I get out I would be hateful to everyone who put me here but now that I have God he has shown me to forgive and not judge.  I will never forget anything we learned here.  It truly opened my eyes.  and it sucks I’m here but I’m thankful for was it has taught me.

On a side note, a girl in here got all mad because one of the new girls kept throwing the empty toilet paper roll on the floor so she took all the t.p. and would only let me and my cellie use it.  One of the new girls waa really pissed and took all our lunch trays and threw them across the room.  LOL! We had vegetable soup and rice everywhere.  All over the walls.  What a fun mess that was cleaning.  She said sorry to everyone though.  But it was crazy.

Keep praying!

A-rain-filled-Tabitha

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Holistic Recovery Project,

Thank you.  Thank you for thinking of me and praying for me.  I’ve found myself looking to God in this desperate time in my life.  Needing the guidance and structure.

This is my first time in “trouble” with the law.  So going to jail for something like this was very scary.  Especially knowing I’m not guilty and I have only to hope my attorney can prove it.  I have a lot of time over my head and it makes me so sad.

Thankfully the c/o’s here are great, along with the girls.  I have realized I have more support outside than I had thought, which brings me hope.  Not knowing is absolutely the hardest thing right now.  I have bail hearing [near the end of the month.] If all goes well, I’ll be able to have a little more time of freedom, so please pray for me.

Thank you for the [“Free stuff for convicts”] list.  And thank you guys for being the first people to write to me.  Keep praying for me.  I need all of the strength I can get, I find myself struggling daily.  I’ve only been here for days and it feels like so long.  How did you guys do it?  I’ve been reading books daily and doing inmate programs to make time go by faster.  I’m terrified I’m going to be stuck here for a while.  Thank you again for reaching out to me.  It means a lot.

God bless,

A-rain-filled-Tabitha

Female prisoners are being "excessively strip searched"

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Political Prisoners

Welcome to the blog from inmates of Maine's jails and prisons.

In collaboration with the Holistic Recovery Project, the Political Prisoners Blog provides a prisoner's view into what's happening at Maine's correctional facilities.

Only your vigilance on the outside can guarrentee that justice goes on on the inside.

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