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Botching the Budget of Maine Corrections

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Stan Moody
POB 240 Manchester, ME 207/626-0594 www.stanmoody.com

Botching the Budget of Maine Corrections
Stan Moody of Manchester, ME, former Maine State Representative and most recently a Chaplain at Maine State Prison in Warren, is advocating for transparency and accountability in Maine·s prison system«A prolific and published writer, Dr. Moody is pastor of the Meeting House Church in Manchester and has been a speaker on human rights issues at conferences around the nation«

December 16, 2010 Trying to get your hands around the per-prisoner cost of corrections in Maine is like trying to catch a greased pig. I made an attempt earlier last week and botched it big time, discovering to my dismay that I had made yet another minor error in my re-write. I was reminded that such is the hazard of working alone without oversight. My final figure came in at around $50,000, down from my original erroneous $75,000. I decided to take a look at how other more erudite and disciplined researchers have addressed this budgetary miasma. 1. The mantra at the Department of Corrections has been $36,000 per year per prisoner. 2. Former House Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Rep. Anne Haskell, is armed with a report that pegs per-prisoner cost at the State level at $43,363, about the same cost as a year of private college. Her retort is aimed at a ´flawedµ Envision Maine report that she claims puts costs at $93,500 per prisoner. Her total budget for the Maine Department of Corrections for FY10 and FY11 is $296 million. She seeks to reconfigure ´per client costsµ to include probationers and juveniles ² at $12,180 per client, about the cost of a Toyota Yaris or a timeshare week. Why not include all of us and get it down to the price of a dinner at MacDonald·s? 3. Philip Trostel, professor of economics and public policy at the University of Maine and author of the ´Reinventing Maine Governmentµ report for Envision Maine, roars back with a figure of $61,258, or 41% higher than that of Rep. Haskell·s retort report. 4. On December 9, The Maine Heritage Policy Center issued a report that had the Department of Corrections budget for FY10 and FY11 at $237 million, or 20% lower than that by Rep. Haskell. What·s 20%, or $60 million, among friends? 5. While a member of the Maine Prison Industries Advisory Council, I was told emphatically that the budget for county jails was equivalent to that of the budget for state facilities, or around $150 million a year. Trostel pegs it 55% lower at $68 million. 6. In my correspondence with one of the members of the LePage budget team, I was told that they all are scratching their heads over the Corrections budget, trying to make sense of it. Taking the cue from a legislator who said just last evening that the people of Maine would pay any price to feel safe, I retreat back to the broad brush approach to prison reform. Fact 1: The index crime rate in Maine has declined 40% over the past 25 years. Fact 2: While lowest in the nation, incarceration in Maine has more than tripled over the same period. Fact 3: Three segregated
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prisoners died under suspicious circumstances ² two hastily cremated ² from the year beginning April 24, 2009, the date of the demise of prisoner Sheldon Weinstein in notorious B117. Do we feel safer now that we have locked up the druggies, the alcoholics, the 3-time losers and pot-smoking probation violators at a cost of anywhere from $36,000 to $94,000 a year, depending on who is doing the figuring? Here we are building concentration camps for ´social trash,µ focused primarily on poor people and people of color, while being treated as ´social trashµ unable to get on an airplane without a metaphorical stripping or physical groping. Going into the Edmund S. Muskie federal building in sleepy Augusta, Maine requires passing through a metal detector and giving your name and itinerary to a uniformed guard in donut mode, even after passing the screening test. I now simply send a check to the IRS without protest in fear of being held for terrorizing a federal employee by questioning his need to know who I am or where I am going after passing through his magnets. This feeling-safe business has digressed to the point that even the most responsible citizen can·t drive by a police cruiser without tensing at the wheel. We slaughtered over a million Iraqi civilians in order to feel safe. Afghan civilians live in terror of our bombs. Scores of other states are mulling over versions of Arizona·s racist immigration law, heavily lobbied by the private prison industry. Fundamentalist Christians are excited about an imminent Armageddon, just before which they will be caught up into the heavens while everybody else will be annihilated. It seems to me that Maine, being stuck up here out of the mainstream of the chaos of the lower 48, could do a whole lot better than shell out unlimited money to people protecting us from the doomsday scenario we are inviting by hiring them in the first place.

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