The Corrections budget — $150 million this fiscal year — is the state's third-largest, after education and human services. This year Ponte was required to cut it by $1.3 million, and more spending cuts may lie ahead because in the last session the Legislature slashed state taxes.
Because the prison population, for the first time in decades, slightly declined recently, Ponte proposed saving $4 million a year by closing the 150-inmate Down East Correctional Facility in Machiasport.
But this proposal ran smack into the parochial side of cost-cutting Republican legislators. Kevin Raye, the Senate president, and others from Washington County vigorously rejected the idea, though the facility is unneeded, it may be unsafe because it doesn't have a sprinkler system, and may require $1 million in renovations.
But it employs 68 locals in an impoverished region. Prisons all over the country have become employment projects. Legislators told Ponte to stick to such things as cutting prescription-drug costs.
"So now will that facility's continued operation, plus renovation, be financed by taking health care away from prisoners?" asked Judy Garvey.
Ponte, however, says he won't compromise care.
Lance Tapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contrasting views of care
Dr. Joseph Shubert, the Corrections medical director and a Corizon employee, told an October department meeting that "We're very proud of our medical care."
But at November's Government Oversight meeting chairman Roger Katz said, "If this was a report on a nursing home where one of my parents was, I'd be going nuts."