A Maine Task force on jail reform has called for changes in funding that it says will promote accountability and reduce recidivism in the state’s troubled corrections system.
According to the Bangor Daily News, the task force proposed raising the state’s annual contribution to jail costs for 2020 and 2021 at 20 percent of total costs, or $18 million.
That would reduce the financial pressure on counties, but at the same time force local authorities to find alternatives to jail for many low-level offenders, the report suggested.
Lincoln County (ME) Sheriff Todd Brackett, a task force member stated, “about 70 percent of jail inmates meet this definition. Using an average of spring and fall jail populations, that would mean the state could pay around $21 million, according to the Maine Department of Corrections.”
Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty, a former Kennebec County sheriff, has opposed any efforts that might shift more costs to the state. But he said the 20 percent figure would provide stability for sheriffs. If the state can find ways to reduce jail populations — something it has studied for 15 years but has run into data limitations — the cost will go down, too, he said.
Reporting requirements and the ability to change how much the jails are assessed for could mean more costs for counties. A provision in the proposed law would require counties to report their revenues and expenses on a monthly basis and to report their populations on a daily basis starting in 2021.
This would help with state data gathering and give a better sense of how much jails are spending, said Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, who co-chairs the task force and the criminal justice committee. There’s an incentive to report: Another change would make state payments quarterly and dependent on “timely” reporting.
“That would create the accountability we are looking for,” Warren said.”
Cost savings may come if jails share resources and aid prisoners. The bill suggests at least 25 percent of all funding for jails be tied to pretrial release or conditional release programs, and community programming determined by a county corrections coordinating council, the article states.
The council would help jails communicate what resources they have and share them, resulting in savings, Brackett said. He said it would be different from the defunct Maine Board of Corrections, which was starved out by former Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who refused to nominate board members to fill it and once proposed pulling jail control from counties.
“It’s more of a platform to work together and find efficiencies,” Brackett said.