Are the prisons overcrowded?
On January 28, the Legislative Criminal Justice Committee heard testimony in which many of the participants, including Corrections Commissioner Magnusson, referred to the Corrections Alternatives Advisory Committee (CAAC) final report of December 2006 (see "Wave of Reform," by Lance Tapley, February 8). It stated that the Maine Department of Corrections lacked bed space for approximately 200 inmates. Thereafter, the Maine newspaper headlines claimed there was emergency overcrowding.
Before Magnusson had inmate correspondent Deane Brown held incommunicado in November 2006 and shipped out-of-state (where he remains without telephone access, even to his attorney), he reported on his radio show, and sent a letter to Senator Bill Diamond to share with the committee, that there were 400 empty bed spaces at Maine State Prison. This was corroborated by guards and inmates. I question whether the whole CAAC board visually inspected the whole Maine State Prison, or whether they took the commissioner's word for his lack of bed spaces. Taxpayers should ask them. The board members were: co-chairman Martin Magnusson, co-chairman Scott Story, Peter Baldacci, Ed Barrett, Hartwell Dowling, James Foss, Evert Fowle, Denise Lord, Judge Robert Mullen, Ralph Nichols, and Chief Justice Leigh Saufley.
I am asking the whole Legislative Committee to physically go and inspect the prison to ascertain how much bed space is there, before considering whether to turn over county jail spaces to any state board.
Rail is possible
As a student at the University of Southern Maine and a resident of Portland, I find the idea of a multi-million-dollar highway widening project basically ludicrous (see "Gathering Steam," by Deirdre Fulton, February 8). At this stage, the priority of any transportation plan should respect climate change. Widening highways only begets more traffic, congestion, and pollution, and that is the last thing any sane person in this country should want. In a recent article in this paper, Deirdre Fulton wrote, "For a state intent on lowering its environmental impact, it seems like a counterintuitive solution."
Counterintuitive is right, and I would be behind any plan that does take the environment into account. What makes the highway widening proposal so frustrating is plethora of different solutions available that would encourage different and less harmful forms of transportation. Public transit in Portland has no place to go but up, and a revitalization could change the face of this city. Continuing and increased train service may seem like a pipe dream, but the breakdown of funds required for various projects provided in the aforementioned article show that actual rail infrastructure is well within the realm of possibility. So it is my hope that PACTS and the Department of Transportation re-prioritize their projects, and that the public becomes aware of the wealth of options on the table for transportation in Portland.