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Tim Zerillo Quoted in MPBN Broadcast About Inmate Move Possibility

In a budget saving move, the Governor is considering moving 118 inmates to out-of-state correctional institutions. Enclosed is a link to a January 9, 2009 MPBN report by Susan Sharon in which I am quoted about concerns for this proposal.

http://www.mpbn.net/News/MaineNews/tabid/181/ctl/ViewItem/mid/1858/ItemId/8863/Default.aspx

Following is the MPBN summary of the story. ~Tim

Governor's Inmate Relocation Plan Draws Strong Opposition Back
January 9, 2009 Reported By: Susan Sharon

It's not the biggest part of the budget. But included in the Governor's plan is a proposal to transfer state prison inmates to a private, out-of-state correctional facility. It's not clear how much state officials think this will save. But it's been proposed and rejected before by the Legislature. And the inmate transfer and some other strategies for saving money in the Department of Corrections are already generating strong opposition.

If there's any good news in the Department of Corrections it's that the budget for the next two years calls for an $18 million increase in funding over last year. But beyond that, the Department and the state prison system are looking at some big changes, including laying off nearly 40 workers, closing a second housing unit at the Charleston Correctional Facility, closing a 94-bed medium security housing unit at the Windham Correctional Facility, closing a 90-bed housing unit at the Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren and closing a 40-bed minimum security unit at the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport. No facility would be closed completely. In addition, the Governor is proposing to transfer 118 prisoners out of state. Marty Magnusson is the Commissioner of the Corrections Department.

"First, of the inmates that we would propose that would go, would be inmates that have little or no family ties in Maine. A lot of them would be inmates that came to Maine to commit a crime and are doing a pretty long amount of time in Maine."

Magnusson says they would be high, medium security and close security inmates. Where they would go remains to be seen. Several states including Oklahama, Arizona, Mississippi and Tennessee accept inmates from out-of-state. Magnusson says it's possible that Maine inmates could be transferred to several places, all privately run and all accredited by the American Corrections Association.
"We've had staff that have visited these facilities and we've talked to a number of other states that have inmates in these facilities and they've had a positive experience with it."

The experience, has not been universally positive however. In Connecticut, for example, the state was forced to settle several lawsuits and faced harsh criticism after two inmates, who were among several hundred transferred out of state, came back in body bags. Maine's plan will require approval from the Legislature which has previously rejected a similar idea.

"Governors can propose and legislators will dispose," says Senator Stan Gerzofsky, a Democrat from Brunswick who co-chairs the Criminal Justice Committee. He says he has big concerns about inmate transfers and about the Governor's plan to double-bunk inmates at two additional pods at the Maine State Prison in Warren. "We have grave concerns about double-bunking in closed security. Last time we did that we had torture going on, we had murder going on, we had a lot of problems. That was 18 to 20 years ago. And when you put somebody in a bunk with somebody else, especially when they're violent to begin with, you're asking for a lot of trouble. That's why the state of Maine hasn't done any double-bunking of closed security inmates in the last 20 years."

In the past, groups like the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, have also weighed in on corrections policy and raised objections to ideas like transferring some inmates out of state. Zach Heiden of the MCLU says that position has not changed. "There are two real problems here. Private prisons out-of-state have a terrible track record at protecting prisoners, keeping them safe and protecting their civil rights. And everybody agrees that keeping prisoners close to their communities, closer to their families reduces the likelihood of recidivism."

Tim Zerillo of MACDL says the way to curb recidivism is to make sure inmates have ties to their communities. "And that includes ties to not only their families but other community members, priests, reverends, their religious organizations as well as their friends. And if you take them out of state than you lose that."

Commissioner Magnusson says it currently costs about $103 a day to house a prisoner at a state-run facility. The daily boarding costs at an out-of-state one are under $70 per day. And while the Legislature may have previously rejected the out-of-state transfer idea, Magnusson says this time around, there are no other options.

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