Libby submits bill to guarantee right to in-person jail visitations

Posted: December 15, 2017 | Senator Libby

Legislation would repeal rule giving sheriffs ability to make families use video conferencing

AUGUSTA — Legislation introduced by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, would ensure county jail inmates have access to in-person visitations by family members and friends.

The bill, LR 2791, will be considered in the 2018 legislative session following an 8-2 vote of the Legislative Council on Thursday. Bills submitted for consideration during the Second Regular Session, which begins January 3, must be approved by a majority of the 10-member Legislative Council. The Council is comprised of five Democrats and five Republicans, meaning bipartisan support is required for any bill to be accepted. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and House MInority Whip Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, voted against letting the bill in for consideration.

In October, the Maine Department of Corrections finalized a new rule allowing sheriffs to decide whether the jail they oversee will allow in-person visitations between inmates and their families and friends.

When a hearing was held on the proposed rule in August, no one spoke in favor of the rule change.

“In-person visitations lead to better outcomes for prisoners, their families and Maine taxpayers,” said Sen. Libby. “Why the Department would institute this rule in the face of everything we know — and with zero public support — is beyond me.”

Inmates are better able to maintain contact with their families and the outside world through in-person visitations, reducing the likelihood that they will commit crimes upon release. A study from the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that “the hazard of reconviction for a felony was 13 percent lower for the visited inmates than for those who were not visited.”

Recidivism is costly for taxpayers. An Illinois Sentencing Policy Advisory Council study found that “each instance of recidivism in Illinois costs, on average, approximately $118,746.”

“Maine jails are already overcrowded and under extreme budget pressures,” said Sen. Libby. “Ensuring in-person visitation for prisoners is a commonsense way to solve a number of these problems. It’s also the right thing to do for prisoners and their loved ones.”

The legislation, still in draft form, will be finalized in the coming weeks and introduced to the Maine Senate during the next legislative session, which begins January 3.