oxford, Maine

Officials make cases for jail services

by Rick Haverinen, special to the Sun Journal Aug. 18, 2016

PARIS — Officials representing jails in Wiscasset and Portland made their cases Tuesday before Oxford County commissioners, who were set to vote on a contract to house prisoners.

Col. Mark Westrum, corrections administrator at Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, and Peter Crichton, Cumberland County manager, presented reasons why their respective facilities were a good fit for Oxford County.

"I'm a programs guy," Westrum said. "We graduate more people out of Two Bridges Regional Jail with GEDs than the entire Wiscasset School District, for example. We provide re-entry services for our inmates. No matter where they're from, we spend as much time in Belfast and Waldo County, making sure inmates are re-entered properly, than we do anywhere else."

Westrum said when Two Bridges receives inmates, "we're getting them normally at the very worst when they come through that back door. And I think it's incumbent upon us as corrections officials to make sure that when they leave, they're at least stable, there's a plan, they have a place to go... All those things are important to me, but they're just as important to my staff."

Westrum said Two Bridges uses video equipment extensively for remote court arraignments, divorces and probate hearings.

"It saves the sheriffs money in transportation," he said, "provides a good service for the inmates, and the courts"

Oxford County Commission Chairman David Duguay of Bryon almost requested a motion for a vote on the Two Bridges proposal before Crichton asked to speak.

"I appreciate what Col. Westrum had to say in terms of Two Bridges Jail," Crichton said. "Our jail is, I think, one of the best. We're nationally accredited. The folks do a great job there...

"What we're looking at now is an issue of trying to retain your business, and include your inmates, and I have made a counterproposal, which is a flat sum of $600,000 to house your inmates. There's no stipulation on the number of inmates," he said. 

Chrichton said the Portland jail has been averaging 30 to 45 inmates per day from Oxford County. "And we would like to keep that business. We would like to continue to work with you as a partner, and I hope that you will consider that," he said.

"I think that when you look at the cost, you'll find that continuing to work with Cumberland County's in your best interest and the best interest of your taxpayers," Chrichton said. "And you won't have the transportation issue that you're going to have to contend with regarding Two Bridges in having to transport people a longer distance. You won't have an issue of what to do with the inmates that you can't house at Two Bridges, that we would have space for."

After Oxford County negotiated a one-year $600,000 deal with Two Bridges, Cumberland County officials matched the offer, after initially saying it would increase the $50 per day/per inmate charge to $108 starting July 1. That would raise Oxford County's cost from $700,000 a year to $1.5 million.

Two weeks ago, Oxford County commissioners endorsed the Two Bridges proposal but took no formal vote.

Oxford County Administrator Scott Cole said the Two Bridges proposal could incur greater initial cost because Oxford County would have to pay the $108 per day/per inmate boarding fee at the Portland jail from July 1 to Aug. 31.

"I don't think I want to refute anything the sheriff or the captain have said, in regards to what their position is, in the last two to three weeks...," Commissioner Steven Merrill of Norway said, referring to Sheriff Wayne Gallant and jail Administrator Ed Quinn. "Unless there's something new in the retroactivity (issue), that's not a good thing. But that's not enough to sway a vote. I don't see any reason to change my opinion, from two weeks ago."

"I've got essentially the same opinion," Commissioner Tim Turner of Buckfield said. "Where the sheriff is an elected official, I feel it's his department... I would go with what he recommends."

Gallant said he recommended Two Bridges because officials there negotiated a price. Cumberland County officials, he said, did not budge on the more-than-double price increase until they heard about Two Bridges' offer.

"It has to do with the form of negotiation that you encounter with the account part of Cumberland too," Merrill said. "No offense, Peter, but the good faith in negotiation process was something that I was a little bit disappointed in. And I understand what you're saying, you're talking about your true cost, not marginal cost. But there's nothing saying to me anyway that that may not change with new (Cumberland County) commissioners... I guess I have to offer a motion and continue on the path we're going now with Two Bridges."

The three commissioners voted unanimously to accept the Two Bridges proposal.