AUGUSTA – State officials need to look at staffing levels, alternatives to incarceration and boarding inmates at county jails while addressing the prison overcrowding crisis, a group of legislators reported Friday.

The subcommittee on corrections reported back to the Appropriations Committee on their immediate solutions to the problem. They are also looking at short- and long-term solutions, said Rep. Stan Gersofsky, D-Brunswick, and chairman of the subcommittee.

As of Wednesday, 2,122 inmates – 307 beyond capacity -were in the state’s six facilities. The only facility that is not overcrowded is the maximum-security Maine State Prison in Warren, which is 12 inmates shy of its 922 capacity.

The Maine Correctional Center, which holds minimum- and medium-security prisoners, has 694 inmates in the facility built for 522, and nearly twice as many females as there is space for, according to information from the Department of Corrections. Inmates waiting for beds are sleeping on the floor.

If the subcommittee’s 17 recommendations announced Friday all were implemented, they would cost the state $628,223 for the remainder of this fiscal year, $7.2 million in fiscal year 2008 and $4.1 million in fiscal year 2009, said Rebecca Wyke, commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services.

The Appropriations Committee members will review the options and vote on their recommendations.

Staffing issues

The Maine State Prison is short 18 correctional officer positions, Gersofsky testified.

Currently, the prison cannot operate at full capacity, so the other option is to close two pods and lose 112 to 128 beds. This means inmates would be sent out of state at a per-day cost to the state.

The subcommittee has recommended filling all vacancies to avoid overtime and the department reduce administrative overhead.

The Appropriations Committee has never denied the department funding for prison staff, said Department of Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson. When the prison was built in 2002, officials never dreamed it would hit capacity so quickly and all pods would need to be opened. In a six-month span, however, the system inmate population went from 1,600 to 2,000, partially because people started being sentenced there instead of county facilities when court officials realized there was space, Magnusson said.

“We projected that even today we’d never have it filled,” he added.

Incarceration alternatives

The subcommittee hopes to ease overcrowding by examining some alternatives to prison, both in sentencing and in programs allowing for early release.

The subcommittee has asked the department to look at incarceration alternative options specifically for females by using the transitional and unification program, group halfway homes and other measures.

They have also recommended more use of programs that let inmates out early, by reviewing good time that allows them to work and get time off their sentences. Other recommendations include allowing inmates with up to 24 months on their sentence to participate in the supervised community confinement program, and using electronic monitoring devices where appropriate.

The subcommittee has asked various groups – district attorneys, judges, county officials and department officials – to study different sentencing practices such as probation and deferred disposition and report figures and recommendations.

Legislators on the Criminal Justice Committee would be asked to review mandatory minimum sentences and decide if they are really necessary. Also, when lawmakers create new crimes, the subcommittee has asked that the fiscal note process include any impact the new crime may have on the prison system.

Boarding out

Boarding inmates out of state is more expensive than keeping them in state, so the subcommittee recommended that minimum security inmates continue to be boarded at county jails.

On May 2, 46 inmates were transferred to county jails across the state to ease crowding at the state level. The state pays the counties $85 a day to house them at the Cumberland, Lincoln and York county facilities.

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