AUGUSTA — Franklin County officials told a legislative committee Monday that the county jail’s status change to a 72-hour jail in 2009 is not working.
They urged the committee to pass LD 238, which would designate the Franklin County Detention Center in Farmington as a jail and not a 72-hour holding facility. The jail was a full-service facility until July 1, 2009, when the state took over the county jail system.
There are some problems, and they need to be fixed, Franklin County jail Manager Doug Blauvelt told the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.
The committee held a public hearing Monday on the bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, at the State House.
Committee members asked clarifying questions and requested that more detailed data is used during the upcoming 2 p.m. March 4 work session on the bill, which will be held in Room 436 at the State House. A Board of Corrections representative will be asked to attend.
The county has submitted a request to change the jail’s mission and 10-year plan to the Board of Corrections to support the change. So far, there has been no action on the request, Blauvelt said. There was also a previous request in 2010 to make the Franklin County center a pre-release center for inmates finishing their sentences, but nothing came of it.
Franklin County taxpayers still raise $1.6 million yearly for the jail, which was the cost of operating it in 2007, Franklin County Commissioner Fred Hardy of New Sharon said. Ten people have been let go — eight corrections officers and two cooks — due to downsizing.
Since the change, it has cost between $800,000 to $1 million to operate the holding facility. Taxpayer money in the amount of $600,000 is sent to the state and distributed in other areas, he said.
The condition of the facility is top-notch, and the kitchen remains licensed, Blauvelt said. The jail has the capacity for 29 beds, and there are other locations that have been used to house inmates in the jail, which has held as many as 54 inmates, he said.
The jail is in a rural area, and there are 10 law enforcement agencies that send arrestees to it, Blauvelt said.
The cost to transport inmates to Somerset County Jail in Madison continually increases. These inmates include those who cannot make bail within 72 hours or have been sentenced to the Franklin County jail to due time.
Blauvelt said when Somerset County stopped taking Franklin County’s prisoners in May 2012, he had to search all over the state to find beds for inmates. Transport officers were on the road many hours a day, traveling mostly to correctional facilities in southern Maine, before Somerset County started taking inmates again in late June 2012.
Transporting inmates around the state creates a public safety risk, he said.
Besides the additional $120,000 in transportation costs to drive inmates approximately 30,000 miles a year, the classification change has caused other problems. Inmates are detached from their families and defense attorneys, he said.
The Franklin County Detention Center has a huge support system that helped reduce the number of repeat offenders, he said. But now that those in custody don’t stay long, services such as educational programs and the assistance to communities provided by inmate labor no longer exist. Municipalities in the county received $86,500 in labor each year from low-risk offenders, and that is at minimum wage, Blauvelt said.
Those in custody also created a large garden at the jail and gave the proceeds to local food pantries. It helped the inmates not only give back to the community, but also helped them adjust to re-entering society, he said.
An added benefit was that it helped them to reduce jail time, he said.
For every two days inmates worked, they served one day less on their sentence, Hardy said. It also helped the county reduce costs.
Some inmates were allowed to work their regular jobs during the day and return to jail overnight. They had to pay rent and buy their medications, Hardy said.
Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. said that throughout his campaign to become sheriff in 2012, constituents voiced concern over the money the county sends to the state.
They feel they are subsidizing other communities, Nichols said.
He told committee members that he was not asking to change the law but is requesting the state to authorize the change of status for the Franklin County jail.
The whole idea of the one system was to create efficiencies, he said.
“I don’t see that,” Nichols said.
He pointed out, as did others, that a National Institute of Corrections report supports the Franklin County effort.
He asked the committee to help the 30,000 people in Franklin County out. And at least get rid of the 72-hour facility status, he said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services