While it is discouraging that lawmakers have failed to find a way to improve the state’s broken county jail system, the fact that they have not abandoned a coordinated, statewide system offers hope.

For a variety of reasons, a unified jail system has not been given a chance to work. As a result, there is understandable pressure to simply go back to the way things were before the 2008 consolidation effort and have counties run the jails. But doing so doesn’t solve the underlying problems that led to the needed — but faulty — consolidation plan.

Maintaining the unsatisfactory status quo of state funding and control for a few months gives lawmakers and others more time to come up with a system that can work.

As it tries to finalize a budget for the next two years, the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee has kept state funding for jails at current levels. The committee also leaves in place an emergency law that keeps control and distribution of state funds for county jails under the control of LePage’s administration. This means Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick will continue to oversee jail management.

The full Legislature should support this plan to give members of the Criminal Justice Committee time to revive the consolidated system.

Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, introduced the original jail consolidation legislation in 2008. He remains a supporter of that plan. “Consolidation was meant to save taxpayers’ money and it has,” he said Wednesday. “If the jails go back to the counties, they’ll just want more and more money.”

And that money would have to come from property taxpayers because the state can’t provide funding without oversight, he said.

Before the consolidation plan, in some counties, jail costs accounted for more than half the county tax assessment, with jail costs increasing steadily at 9 percent a year. Several counties were preparing to borrow $110 million total to build new facilities or add to existing ones. Some jails were chronically overcrowded; others were underutilized.

Another piece of the consolidation plan Gerzofsky hopes to revive is the Board of Corrections, which was meant to provide needed oversight and coordination. The board, however, was plagued from the beginning by a lack of clarity about is authority and priorities. The Legislature, following the recommendations of a 2013 task force that looked at what worked and what didn’t within the system, passed legislation last May clarifying the board’s powers and duties, giving it real authority over budgets, staffing and standards. Lawmakers had to override a veto by Gov. Paul LePage so the board could get this authority.

But by the time the law went into effect, LePage had become so frustrated with the board that he refused to appoint members to it. Without a quorum, the board couldn’t meet or take action, so it has fallen apart. The board’s executive director, and other staff, quit earlier this year.

The endless debate over funding has detracted attention from the necessary work of improving substance abuse and mental health treatment and inmate education and programming, and reducing recidivism in the jails. Many of those held in county jails have serious mental illness; far too few receive needed treatment while they are incarcerated. The same goes for inmates struggling with substance abuse and addiction.

Maintaining the current funding and reporting structure will allow lawmakers to continue to do the hard work needed to make a coordinated jail system work. That’s much preferred to simply giving up on it.

The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...