Tuesday, December 10, 2013
AUGUSTA — The Maine Board of Corrections didn't act today on Franklin County officials' request to make the county jail once again fully operational.
The board moved to take a vote at its next meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17, when Department of Corrections officials will be present to answer questions about the financial impact of the status upgrade.
The board's attorney, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Black, advised the board to take no action today, saying the board didn't have all the information it needed to take an informed vote.
The Franklin County Detention Center has been reduced to a 72-hour holding center for the past four years as part of a law that consolidated the state's county jails into a unified system.
Several board members previously said they were worried that as long as the system is in financial crisis, they could not afford to grant the Franklin County jail permission to be fully operational.
Earlier in the meeting, the members voted to fully fund the county jails even though the board has less than a quarter of the money needed to do it, in hope of forcing the Legislature to fully fund the jails for the first time since the consolidated system began.
As long as Franklin County jail is a holding center, the county pays about $600,000 annually into the state system to board its inmates in other jails. If granted full status, the jail would retain that money to run its own operation.
According to state regulations, the board has 90 days after the last public hearing held about the Franklin County jail's request to make a final decision on the pending switch. The original deadline for a decision was Sept. 11, but because the board decided at today's meeting to hold an additional public hearing on Sept. 17, the state deadline is now pushed to 90 days after Sept. 17.
Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said the board owed Franklin County an answer soon, because the debate about the request to re-open has been pending on since last September.
"I'd like to have this done in a timely fashion," he said.
Board member Douglas Beaulieu, administrator of Aroostook County, said he plans to support the request to re-open as long as the Legislature agrees to provide supplemental money to the financially ailing jails.
Sheriff Scott Nichols and other Franklin County officials have lobbied the board to change the jail's status since Nichols took office in January, though the complaints from the county date back to the 2009 law change.
Critics of the county jail's reduced status say the under the consolidated system, Franklin County inmates don't have the same opportunities for work-release programs, have less access to attorneys and are removed from their families.
Local officials also say the county is wasting time and money by not having a fully operational jail. Law enforcement officials now have to travel more than 70 miles round trip to transport inmates between jails in other counties and Franklin County Court in Farmington.
Nichols told the board that his corrections officers are working an average of 15 hours of overtime each week.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252