AUGUSTA – The National Institute of Corrections has chosen Maine as one of two states in the nation to receive an intensive three-year review of its community corrections programs.
While the “gift,” as Associate Commissioner of the Department of Corrections Denise Lord called it, does not include a financial reward, it does involve the use of technology, support and resources from the NIC in Washington, D.C., according to Dot Fraust of the national agency, which is part of the United State’s Justice Department.
Fraust outlined the three-year plan for members of the Commission to Improve the Sentencing, Supervision, Management and Incarceration of Prisoners during the group’s meeting on Wednesday in Augusta.
“Less victimization in the community is the goal,” said Fraust. “This is about finding ways to change the thought process of the defendant and finding a plan that involves treatment and sanctions working together equally.”
The idea is to use the three years to develop a system strong enough to survive despite changes in leadership and budget fluctuations that often are the downfall of newly developed programs, she said.
Illinois was the other state chosen for the program, and Maine DOC officials went through a grantlike application process in order to be chosen.
Fraust said Maine was chosen in part because of what the NIC deemed as “good collaboration” between the different departments and agencies that are involved in the state’s correction system.
“We sense a pretty good climate here,” she noted, adding that the state’s brand-new computerized information system, which should, for the first time, centralize information on Maine prisoners, also factored in the NIC’s decision because the system is “state of the art.”
“The first year we will recruit heavily for people to take a look at this system,” she said. “We will have practitioners, academics, consultants and national experts all on board. We will be looking at hiring and firing policies and the budget because we need to start with the infrastructure and make that sound,” she said.
Fraust appeared so confident that the end result would make Maine a leader in the nation in community corrections that she said Maine and Illinois would be used as examples of success for other states.
The commission, chaired by former DOC Commissioner Donald Allen, met for the first time in September and is meeting throughout the fall to try to find ways to lower Maine’s prison population. The population at the state prison has grown from 1,658 in 2000 to 1,979 this year. In addition to trying to lower the population, the commission is also searching for ways to better serve inmates with mental illness, a population that continues to explode.