2012-05-30 / Op-Ed

The state of the jail system

By Detective Thomas White

In 2008 the 15 Maine county jails were consolidated into the Bureau of Corrections under the authority of the Department of Corrections. When the BOC took over the county jail system the citizens of Franklin County were paying $1.6 million to operate their facility. Our jail at that time was a full service jail with a full complement of corrections officers on each shift, food service, medical care and inmate workers. If a person was sentenced to less than nine months they stayed and became an inmate of the sheriff. If a sentence exceeded nine months and one day they were transferred into the state Department of Corrections system.

In 2008 Franklin and Oxford counties became the only two “holding facilities” under the authority of the BOC. This change in mission made our two jails “holding facilities” with the capability of housing inmates for up to 72 hours. At the expiration of, or prior to that designated time, the inmate either had to be transferred to another BOC site or released. Franklin County prisoners were designated to be housed at the Somerset Correction Facility. Oxford prisoners are sent to Androscoggin County.

Because of this change in the system we were forced to lay-off eight corrections officers, support staff and we lost our inmate workers. The county also was required to continue funding the jail at the $1.6 million 2008 figure. This figure has become the “cap” for our jail. For the past four years we contributed $1.6 million to the consolidated system. Last year our cost to operate the 72-hour facility was just under $1 million. The balance of $600,000, raised through county tax, was swept into the overall system to fund other jails or programs.

Twice, recently, the Bureau of Corrections has stopped payment to Somerset County for housing our prisoners because of financial problems within the BOC system. This has required the manger of our facility to find inmate beds in other jails. Currently we are housing Franklin inmates in Wiscasset. This means our transport deputies travel to and from that jail to leave or return inmates for court, medical appointments or release. Housing inmates in other counties is problematic to the court, defense and prosecuting attorneys, investigators and families of these people. One major function of a county correctional facility is to attempt to rehabilitate the minimum security inmate. We are failing to do that if the inmate is not located in their own community. As important, we are funding a system that has no concern for our taxpayer. I believe it is time the sheriff and local legislators challenge and legislate a return to a system that worked for 173 years.

Detective Thomas White, of the Franklin County Sheriff ’s Office, lives in Jay.

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