PARIS, Maine — The overflow of inmates at jails statewide is affecting Oxford County, which has been sending long-term inmates to the Androscoggin and Cumberland county jails since 2009.
On Tuesday, Capt. Ed Quinn, jail administrator for the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, said inmates arrested last week remain at the county jail, as Androscoggin and Cumberland are above their functional capacities.
Quinn said he was told the Androscoggin County Jail couldn’t hold additional inmates July 24. They’ve stayed over capacity since. Calls to Cumberland and York county jails found no openings there, either.
Since the state jail consolidation in 2009, the Oxford County jail has been a 72-hour holding facility with reduced staff and no on-site medical or food services. Quinn said the jail lost six positions at that time.
Inmates awaiting trial and those sentenced to less than 90 days were transported to the Androscoggin County Jail. Those with longer sentences, but under the year minimum to go to state prison, went to Cumberland County.
Most of the time, it works out. Prisoners are driven to Auburn if they can’t make bail and brought back to Paris for court appearances. However, Quinn said, arrest rates are typically higher in warm, sunny weather, and this summer is no different.
“It’s really a summertime issue right at this point,” he said. The jail took in 34 prisoners on the weekend of the TD Bank 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway, 16 of whom were arrested at the race.
Quinn said last summer, there were times on weekends when the Androscoggin County Jail couldn’t hold prisoners. This is the first time they’ve had to hold people more than four or five days.
Right now, he said, there are only three inmates. Two are in custody, awaiting court appearances, and one sentenced woman is staying there. They’re “very low-key, low-risk,” he said. “I’m very lucky.”
Keeping prisoners long-term isn’t easy for the jail. Without on-site medical care, guards have to drive inmates with medical issues to the hospital or swap them with healthy inmates in Auburn. The jail gets lunches from a local restaurant.
With just a few jailers on staff at any given time, numbers can dwindle if one guard is transporting a prisoner and another is helping to take in a recently-arrested suspect or dealing with an out-of-control prisoner. Add to that summer vacations, and the safety of jail officers is a concern, Quinn said.
Quinn said there’s no way of knowing when the Androscoggin County Jail will have space for prisoners. Quinn acknowledged that the county jail will probably never become a full-time jail again, and that the only answer was to find a way to make the current system work.
“We can’t go back now,” Sheriff Wayne Gallant said Tuesday. He has lobbied turning a section of the jail into all-women’s housing. That would fill space in the Oxford County Jail while helping other jails, who have to keep women in different cell blocks than men.
Gallant said it’s still a possibility, along with talk of bringing a percentage of Oxford County prisoners to the jail.
“Hopefully we’ll see some of those things coming up soon,” Gallant said.