FARMINGTON, Maine — Franklin County residents plan to demonstrate Wednesday to get their message across: They want their jail back.
They want it returned to full operational status rather than the 72-hour holding facility the state turned it into in July 2009 as part of its plan to consolidate the county jail system.
They are creating signs to hold during the “Give Us Back Our Jail” rally and demonstration at 5 p.m. April 10 in front of the Franklin County Courthouse on Main Street in downtown Farmington.
Dozens of residents have pledged their support to stand with Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. and other officials during the peaceful rally.
Many have already sent letters and emails off to the state Board of Corrections, governor and members of the Legislature in an effort to stress their point.
A legislative committee unanimously voted down a bill on April 1 to make Franklin County Detention Center a jail instead of a holding facility. A legislator is trying to resurrect the bill in some sort of fashion, but that has not happened.
Residents say they are tired of sending county taxpayers’ dollars to the state to run other jails in Maine. They are also tired of spending money on transportation to drive inmates around the state to a jail that has open beds. As of this past Wednesday, Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. told county commissioners the cost is reaching $125,000.
Somerset County Jail in Madison stopped taking Franklin County Jail inmates and other counties’ inmates as of March 26 due to the state withholding $280,000 it owes to Somerset County for a third-quarter payment for boarding inmates from other counties.
Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong said he and county commissioners have decided to keep the money it gets from the U.S. government to board federal prisoners to lower the tax burden on its residents and not share it with the state. Representatives of the Board of Corrections are looking into the legalities of that.
Franklin County taxpayers raise $1.6 million a year to run the jail. At the most since 2009, it has cost $1.1 million to do that, with $500,000 to $600,000 being sent to the state to support other jails.
Nichols told Franklin County commissioners the Sheriff’s Department could run the jail for nearly $1.6 million.
Ryan Morgan, chairman of the Farmington Board of Selectmen, also a county Budget Committee member, told Franklin County commissioners Wednesday that people want their jail back and want commissioners to act.
Commissioners have been to the state Legislature and the Board of Corrections to try to have the mission for the jail changed. A proposal to allow the jail to have prerelease inmates at the jail, which helped towns in the area save more than $50,000 previously with inmate labor, was not acted upon.
The commissioners’ request to change the mission in September 2012 has also not been acted upon by the Board of Corrections.