A crisis now looming in the Maine Department of Corrections warrants the attention not only of our state Legislature, but of Maine’s attorney general as well.

President Woodrow Wilson once said: “Democracy was not so much a form of government as a set of principles.”

As an accomplished op-ed writer on prison reform dedicated to providing an educational and realistic view of our correctional system, I became determined to change perception on correctional staffing issues after the death of a 9-year-old Maine girl because of a jail guard falling asleep at the wheel after working an overtime shift at a local jail.

My persistence led the Legislature to act. In 2020, emergency legislation was introduced and received a formal hearing that addressed the constitutional crisis with chronic staff shortage and wages for correctional officers.

The bill was making its way through the legislative process effectively before the Legislature got shut down due to COVID-19. The failure to resurrect the bill has resulted in the correctional system’s inability to operate in a safe, functional and constitutional manner as the legislature intended.

Prison bureaucracies are an enterprising business and the cost of business has gone up exponentially in recent years. The Maine Department of Corrections is plagued with substantial staff shortages and an overreliance on overtime, which has not only amassed costs into millions that are paid by taxpayers, but has also created an extensive concern among the inmate population system-wide, as well as guard staff, due to daily mandates, continual and extensive lockdowns, program shutdowns and a host of other liabilities attached to the debacle.


The dangerous guard-to-inmate ratio has created several significant liabilities in that, for example, there is high potential that staff may not get to a suicidal inmate in time. Secondly, there has been a longtime general practice in place to mandate “tired” nightshift staff on both ends of the shift to keep the correctional system operational, clearly creating a public safety issue.

Rehabilitation depends on effective, sequential and successful programming, and so it is essential that all residents in the Maine Department of Corrections are able to participate and engage in this necessary activity. Access to drug treatments, education, counseling and other forms of therapy to resolve health and overall self-improvement is at the heart of rehabilitation.

It is certainly time for the state of Maine and its Legislature to acknowledge that moral and fiscal imperative and to recognize that it is not economically feasible, nor realistic, to believe that the department can sustain itself on this path, which many feel will lead to fiscal destruction.

The state has a constitutional duty to enact appropriate legislation without delay, to stave off any further crisis in our correctional system. To ignore or prolong relief for such a necessity would invite a disastrous result.

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