oxford, Maine

Several in Franklin County feel
new jail system not working

Donna M. Perry, Staff Writer Sun Journal May 9, 2012

FARMINGTON — The state's plan to oversee county jails is not working as planned, and maybe not at all, according to people who gave feedback Tuesday to a National Institute of Corrections consultant and executive director of the Maine Board of Corrections.The state board asked NIC to come and give technical assistance to gain a better understanding of the jail situation.

Two consultants began their tours of 10 county jails Monday and listened to stakeholders at each visit.

Rod Miller, left, consultant for the National Institute of Corrections, and Maine Board of Corrections Executive Director Michael Tausek met Tuesday in Farmington to listen to stakeholders in Franklin County complain about the new county jail system the state implemented three years ago.                                        Donna Perry photo

On Tuesday, NIC consultant Rod Miller, a former Kents Hill resident who previously worked with the state's jail system, and Board of Corrections Executive Director Michael Tausek visited the jail in Farmington. Earlier, they toured the Oxford County Jail in South Paris, the second of three 72-hour county holding facilities, and asked stakeholders for similar feedback. Another consultant toured Androscoggin County Jail, which is full-time jail, in Auburn on Tuesday morning.

Many in the Franklin County jail audience voiced concern that the visit could lead to the state closing the jail in Farmington, since its operation was reduced in 2009 from a full-fledged jail to a holding facility. They said that when the county was overseeing all operations, it ran better.

There was no talk of closing the facility, Miller said.

The county needs a 72-hour jail because it is in a rural area with no other jail nearby, he said. Without it, law enforcement would be transporting constantly, he said.

Miller said it would be a minimal increase in expense for the jail to house a residential program, in which inmate trustees could work doing grounds care and other jobs for municipalities or the county.

“We were asked by the Board of Corrections to come in because things are not working as well as hoped,” Miller said.

The Legislature formed a nine-member Board of Corrections to oversee budgeting and future jail expansion or construction after a compromise was reached in 2008 on a plan for the state to take over county jails. The county tax rate for the jails stayed the same, and the counties are responsible for day-to-day operations of the jails. Taxpayers in each county still fork over money to the state for the jails. In Franklin County, it is $1.6 million a year.

The county still owns the jail, but the funds to repair it or replace it have to come through the Board of Corrections, Miller said.

He doesn't think anyone thinks the new system is working, he said.

Tausek, an experienced county jail operator, said he was trying to write a strategic plan to implement creative strategies to make the system work better.

Police told of hidden costs they face in the municipal police departments when they have to back up the jail, which is understaffed. Deputies and police talked of travel time to send officers to interview those in custody in Madison. They raised concerns about safety and security and the need to have access to the jail, rather than having to sit waiting, due to it being understaffed.

Farmington Selectman Ryan Morgan said some cost is being passed on to the municipalities. And the biggest thing, he said, is public safety when one officer is taken off the street to back up the jail or to travel to conduct an interview. That leaves a town without all available coverage.

Oxford County chiefs are going to count how many times they have to travel to Androscoggin County Jail and to help the Oxford County Jail with backup, Miller said.

It was mentioned that sometimes when Franklin County corrections officers take inmates to the Somerset jail, it is full. Transport officers can do a trade-off and bring different Franklin County inmates back to Farmington in a one-on-one trade, and that starts the 72-hour cycle again.

Corrections Cpl. Albert Smith said that on days inmates have to be in court, transport officers could spend 7½ to 8 hours on the road, not including time spent in court or at the jails, which costs money. Previously, the officers only had to drive about 4½ miles to the jail.

The regionalization of jails was done in a hasty way under a lot of pressure, Miller said. The state Legislature said it would take care of costs above the capped money the counties were expected to raise, he said.

“They haven't been doing it,” Miller said. “The state has not provided the Board of Corrections the funds to properly run the jails.”

Several in the audience, including state legislators, said it was time to get local control back to the counties. However, they also noted that lawmakers in the southern part of the state don't want their communities to pay for rural jails.

A lot of people are very angry, very frustrated with the new system, Miller said.
“I don't blame them,” he said.

The top issue of concerns is safety and security for all of those who enter jails, including inmates, staff and police, he said.

The board has to realize that a small jail is more expensive to run, per bed, he said.