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Inmates say Bolduc staff helped them apply for jobless benefits

Inmates say they face discipline for putting money in different account
By Stephen Betts | May 23, 2020
Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren

Warren — The staff at the Bolduc Correctional Facility helped inmates apply for unemployment benefits and now are threatening disciplinary action against recipients who had the money moved into separate private bank accounts, inmates say.

The inmates spoke by telephone Thursday, May 21, saying they wanted to counter the impression they believe the state has given that the prisoners were applying for the money without the knowledge of Corrections staff.

Anthony Manganella defended receiving the benefits, saying he earned his way into the work release program through hard work. He said he was employed in a job outside the facility and is legally eligible to receive benefits as agreed to by an attorney in the Maine Attorney General's Office.

Manganella was working for Meklin Excavation before the Corrections Department put a halt to work release programs in mid-March to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the Correction facilities in the state.

Manganella said he paid state and federal taxes as does any other worker.

Manganella, who is serving four years for robbery and is scheduled to be released in February, said he has a wife and two children to support and a mortgage to pay.

The work release participants were told by the Maine Department of Labor that they were eligible for unemployment benefits and the Bolduc facility helped them apply for the money, he said.

Brandon Brown said the state is trying to make it look like the inmates were doing something under-handed when, in fact, they were assisted by the Bolduc administration.

He said Mae Worcester, the community programs coordinator and wife of the facility's acting Director Russell Worcester Jr., allowed inmates to use a room with telephones to call the unemployment line to apply for benefits.

"They were allowed to sit there for hours, dialing and redialing until they got through," Brown said.

An email was sent to the Worcesters and the Corrections Department Friday morning about the administration assisting the inmates in the application process. There was no immediate response.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Janet Mills said the governor was informed of the inmates receiving benefits at the end of April. Mills notified the Labor Department to stop providing the payments, and in a May 15 letter to Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty also ordered a halt to the practice.

"I not only find this appalling and to be bad public policy, I also do not believe that it was the intent of the Legislature or the Congress to allow inmates to receive state or federal benefits, including the $600 weekly PUA (pandemic unemployment assistance) payment," Mills stated in her letter to Liberty.

The Labor Department, in consultation with Assistant Attorney General Nancy Macirowksi, determined the inmates would be eligible for benefits. A letter from Macirowski was sent to Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman April 29.

The attorney said it was the Corrections Department's decision to have the workers stop working to prevent them from bringing the virus back to the facilities, thus quarantining the inmates. She said the inmates were eligible for benefits.

"Work release is not worked by prisoners in the prison. This is worked performed outside the prison for private employers. This work is often performed side by side with other workers who are not prisoners on work release," Macirowski stated in her letter.

The attorney also noted that state wage and hour laws require prisoners be paid minimum wage for services performed on work release. And, she continued, there is no exception in labor law to exclude inmates who are in a work release program from receiving unemployment benefits.

At a Friday, May 23 media briefing on COVID-19, Gov. Mills was asked what legal reason was there to stop the inmates from receiving benefits. She did not offer a legal reason but reiterated her position that it was not the intent of the Legislature or the Congress to allow inmates to receive state or federal benefits, including the $600 weekly pandemic payment.

Brown, who is serving a sentence for attempted murder, and is scheduled to be released in August 2023, said, however, he disagrees.

"What is appalling to me is that they were told they could apply and the director and his wife (at Bolduc) knew," Brown said.

A Maine Department of Corrections spokeswoman said May 20 that 53 incarcerated individuals were paid $198,767 in unemployment benefits after they were prohibited from continuing their employment by the department. That averages out to $3,750 per inmate since mid-March.

That money, minus the funds taken out for room and board as well as any reimbursement owed, was placed into a trust account for the inmates.

No decision has been made about the recoupment of benefits, Corrections Department Director of Government Affairs Anna Black said last week.

The Corrections Department takes 20 to 25% of wages received by prisoners for room, board and transportation. Inmates who have to pay for their own transportation have 10% removed from their pay.

Mangella said $110 a week was being taken out of his pay when he was on work release for transportation even though his workplace was only about a mile from Bolduc. And he said he only needed transportation to the work site and got a ride back from the company.

The Bolduc Correctional Facility in Warren, the Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston and the Southern Maine Women’s Reentry Center in Windham have work release programs in the Maine Corrections system.

Manganella said when he and other inmates learned the state was going to stop the payments and direct the benefits to a trust account, many of the inmates contacted the Labor Department and had the unemployment benefits redirected to other private bank accounts.

He said the Bolduc administration responded by citing each of the inmates — about 25 of them — and threatening disciplinary action including loss of good time and loss of eligibility for work release

Manganella said he and his wife had contacted a law firm which has agreed to take the case. A telephone call was left May 22 with the firm but there was no immediate response.

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Comments (3)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | May 24, 2020 16:11

The Worcestors have been at the Bolduc Unit for a long time and have probably reduced the recidivism rate more than we will ever know. They have done that by earning mutual respect with the inmates under their supervision. I hope that this does nothing to discourage them in their efforts.



Posted by: George Terrien | May 24, 2020 12:20

Nothing like sunshine and fresh air!  Thanks for following through on this news item, Mr. Betts!

G



Posted by: William & Lorraine Ryan | May 24, 2020 10:25

I will once again question whether or not the State requires the employer to pay the 6% unemployment tax on the work release employees. If so, they should be treated the same as any other laid off employee, or the state should reimburse the employer for the taxes collected.

 



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