January 4, 2013

Somerset County commission votes to keep federal prisoner money

About $1.35 million per year in payments for housing federal inmates won't be shared with state

By Doug Harlow dharlow@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

SKOWHEGAN -- Somerset County commissioners this week voted to use all revenues from the boarding of federal inmates for operations and debt service at the county jail and not share the money with the state.

click image to enlarge

Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong, left, and Maj. David Allen stand on a balcony overlooking an inmate pod filled with prisoners at the Somerset County Jail in East Madison on May 16.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The Somerset County Jail in East Madison houses approximately 40 federal inmates per day, according to Commissioner Phil Roy.

The county is paid $93 a day for each federal inmate, which amounts to about $1.35 million per year.

Roy said the state Board of Corrections is responsible for paying the cost of housing 25 to 30 out-of-county Maine inmates, which is about $22 per day, per inmate. But the board has been withholding some payments, saying the federal money coming in was surplus and could be used to pay the cost of those inmates and save the state money.

The problem with that, Roy said, is that the savings should be used to maintain the four-year-old jail and to help pay down the debt on the construction.

"This federal money subsidizes other county inmates and we're saying no -- that's a contract with the federal government and Somerset County," Roy said. "The state Board of Corrections places 30 inmates in our facility and they are saying you don't need any state money because you've got this federal money and that's not right."

He said the state Board of Corrections has no jurisdiction on the matter under Maine law.

Col. Mark Westrum, chairman of state Board of Corrections and administrator at Two Rivers Regional Jail in Wiscasset, did not return calls for comment Friday.

Of the $93 paid daily for each federal inmate, $22 will be used to offset the costs of running the jail; $18 would go to a building capital reserve fund and $53 will be used for debt service on the construction of the jail.

The state will now pick up its full share of housing inmates from other facilities where overcrowding is a problem, Roy said. Payments are made quarterly.

The vote by county commissioners on Wednesday was 5-0 to approve the resolution, retroactive to July 1, to cover all of fiscal 2012-13.

Commissioner Robert Dunphy, of Embden, the former chairman, said before the vote Wednesday that he opposed the resolution in favor of waiting for a bill to be presented this year by state Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley. Thomas' bill would achieve the same result, without creating a stir in Augusta, Dunphy said.

"This is throwing a monkey wrench into it," he told fellow commissioners. "I don't want to mess up what the Legislature is going to do."

Dunphy eventually changed his mind and voted with the majority.

Commission Chairwoman Lynda Quinn, of Skowhegan, said Friday the resolution is not a new idea, but was not acted on after Roy left the board in 2008.

His return to the board this month, brought the matter back to the forefront, she said.

Doug Harlow -- 612-2367

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