oxford, Maine

National corrections consultants to review county jails

Donna M. Perry, Staff Writer Sun Journal May 5, 2012

FARMINGTON — Consultants from the National Institute of Corrections will be touring 10 county jails from May 7 to 14, including jails in Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford, Kennebec, York and Washington counties.

The Maine Board of Corrections requested technical assistance from the Institute, according to a letter sent April 25 to sheriffs, county commissioners and other related associations by board Executive Director Michael Tausek. He was not available for comment.

The purpose of the on-site visits are threefold, Tausek wrote.

One, is to gain a greater understanding of the current jail situation: what is working, what is most challenging, where are the gaps. Two, is to gain a greater understanding of current jail population management practices. And three, is to explore the potential for expanding evidence-based offender management practices in Maine.

Specifically, the consultants would like to do two things while visiting the counties.

“Meet with a representative group of criminal justice and county stakeholders. (This could include judges, sheriffs, jail staff, bail commissioners, pretrial services, prosecutors, defense attorneys, county commissioners, key community members and others) in a focus group setting,” Tausek wrote.

A tour of jails would also take place to gain a greater understanding of the physical plan, jail procedures and operations.

Franklin County jail Manager Doug Blauvelt said Thursday that the corrections board is hoping to find a way for the whole jail system to run more efficiently.

Through the assistance from the Institute, the state board hopes to identify some potential directions for addressing the many challenges facing the system with respect to jail operations and population management, now and in the future, Tausek wrote.

A nine-member state Board of Corrections was formed 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. Taxpayers in each county still raise money for the operation of jails.

The state Legislature’s compromise would keep the jails under day-to-day county control. The measure was expected to relieve crowding in Maine prisons and unify the jails under a common system. The Board of Corrections would be able to reduce the beds at individual jails, change their missions or close them.

In July 2009, the mission for the Franklin County jail changed to a 72-hour holding facility for people taken into custody. If they are not released during that time, they are taken to Somerset County Jail in Madison.

In addition Franklin County commissioners and jail officials have requested that the jail be considered to house pre-release inmates. Those inmates would be nearing their end of incarceration and could be eased back into society by helping towns in the area with tasks such as grounds maintenance or road improvements.

The National Institute of Corrections is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Institute is headed by a director appointed by the U.S. attorney general. A 16-member advisory board, also appointed by the attorney general, was established by the enabling legislation to provide policy direction to the Institute, according to the website ncis.gov.

Locally, tours are scheduled to take place from 8 to 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 8, at Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn and Oxford County Jail in South Paris. A tour of the Franklin County jail in Farmington is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. the same day.

“Time and geographical constraints are the only reasons for not including each and every facility,” Tausek wrote. And one of the consultants has prior knowledge of the sites not on the tour list, he said.