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Maine Corrections Officials: Jobs Likely to go Unfilled Under Curtailment
12/28/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Included in the governor's curtailment order is a plan to cut nearly $2 million from the Department of Corrections. Never a popular place to spend money even during flush times, the prison system has struggled in recent years to attract corrections officers. As Susan Sharon reports, managing the corrections cuts will not require any layoffs but it will mean leaving some jobs unfilled.

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Maine Corrections Officials: Jobs Likely to go Un Listen

Associate Corrections Commissioner Jody Breton says the curtailment won't require layoffs, in part because her department has saved a significant amount of money this year in salaries.

The salary savings came primarily from vacant positions at the Maine State Prison in Warren. Breton puts the number at about two dozen corrections officers. About half those will be filled this month. But with the curtailment, some positions in the prison system will likely be phased out or remain vacant.

"With us, we looked at it very much from the data: What have we already accrued for savings? What can we realistically expect to fill?" Breton says. "We always have an attrition factor. It's not pleasant. It's going to mean some positions may stay open longer than people would like, but we really have to manage within our budget."

The starting base salary for a Maine corrections officer is less than $14 an hour, with more money added for direct care services and shift differentials. Breton says it's one of the reasons recruitment is difficult. In the past the shortage of officers has meant that the Department of Corrections has had to pay a lot more in overtime.

Finance Commissioner Sawin Millett says Commissioner Joseph Ponte has done a good job of reversing that trend.

"We went to a 12-hours on, 12-hours off corrections officer assignment in many of the prisons where it could be accomplished, and we saved, therefore, a lot of unbudgeted overtime," Millett says. "And under Commissioner Ponte's leadership, he's been really aggressive in doing that. So where he achieved $2 million in savings, I'm confident he believes he can achieve it."

Members of the Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee say they want to know what the curtailment means for staffing.

"There's going to be impacts. I want to know where those impacts are going to be," says Democratic State Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, of Brunswick. Gerzofsky chairs the committee which will oversee the proposed curtailment for the Department of Corrections.

Gerzovsky says it will be an uphill battle to challenge the cuts, given some of the even larger hits given to Education and Human Services.

"We're going to be competing with education for money. We're going to be competing with transportation for money," Gerzovsky says. "When you start competing with those sort of things or health and human services, legislators tend to not want to put it into criminals as much as they want to put it into mental health care."

If there's one bright spot in the prison system, it's juvenile corrections, where Associate Commissioner Jody Breton says a declining population of youthful offenders has allowed the closure of pods at the Long Creek and Mountain View juvenile facilities. That means fewer personnel are needed, and it helps cushion the curtailment blow.

Breton says additional savings will be achieved through a reduction in overtime in probation services. A call to the Maine State Employees Association, which represents some Department of Corrections staff, was not returned by airtime.


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