Maine Early Release Program Yields Big Savings for Taxpayers

In the three months that the Waldo County Jail in Maine has contracted with Volunteers of America (VOA) to run an early release program for addicted inmates, the program has saved taxpayers nearly $66,000, the Waldo Independent reported May 21.

Long-term savings are also expected from the program, which provides inmates with addiction treatment programs, job training, and community-based services.

The VOA program is part of the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office and sprung from a Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee discussion. “We asked, ‘What kinds of people do we want to incarcerate — just the people we’re mad at?'” said Jail Administrator Ray Porter.

He said that the “we” in the question included community leaders who influence relevant legislation, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other advocacy groups that address what Porter calls “the crimes of the times.”

Inmates who qualify for the VOA program include those sentenced for misdemeanors that don’t involve violent crimes or sex offenses. Inmates are considered for release after serving one-third of their sentence.

“Basically, they are under house arrest,” Porter said. “They have to have a home. They have to agree to attend any treatment. They have to have a job or be looking for a job. They don’t just sit home and eat chips and watch ‘Archie Bunker’ reruns.”

To date, Porter said none of the inmates who have participated in the VOA program has returned to jail.

“We see individuals come in on arrest. They’re coming down from drugs. They’re real angry, difficult people,” Porter said. “As a corrections officer, you see a transition. You see these scary, ugly people. Once they’ve dried out and they’re dealing with their issues, you see a naturally good person. They’re good people who have gone a bad way.”