FARMINGTON — Local leaders and the county sheriff Wednesday discussed how to return the Franklin County jail to full-service status, having hit obstacles that left the county unable to comply with the law that diminished its status, yet also unable to overturn it.

According to the sheriff’s department, the jail’s current status as a 72-hour holding facility has been a drain on the department’s time and financial resources.

On Monday, a legislative committee unanimously voted down a bill to return the jail to its status as a fully functioning jail, instead of its current status as a holding facility that eventually transfers its inmates to the Somerset County Jail. The jail there is one of four flagship county jails created statewide under the 2008 jail consolidation law that takes prisoners on a long-term basis.

Last week, Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong said he would not accept any more out-of-county inmates at the Somerset County Jail until it resolves state funding issues.

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said Wednesday morning that the Franklin County jail held three inmates past the 72-hour limit because the county had nowhere to send them.

“We got caught in the crossfire between the state and Somerset,” he said.

Nichols said he doesn’t blame Somerset County for refusing to take Franklin County inmates, but now his department is also in a bind.

Ryan Morgan, chairman of the Farmington Board of Selectmen, suggested the county reinstate the jail to its full-service status without state permission and see whether anyone from Augusta tries to stop it.

“What are they going to do about it?” he said.

Morgan said if they are not getting results from the Legislature, the county should take matters into its own hands.

Franklin County Commissioner Gary McGrane said town and county officials can petition state officials to repeal the law; but because they’re sworn to uphold the law, they cannot return the jail to its former status.

Nichols said “maybe it’s time for some peaceful disobedience” but also said he thinks there is a way to work within the law at least to change the jail’s status to allow it to hold prisoners longer than the current 72 hours.

Nichols said state lawmakers need to acknowledge that the current jail system is faulty and the change was a mistake.

“At some point, you’ve got to admit it’s not working,” he said.

On Wednesday, officials from Somerset County, the Board of Corrections and the Office of the Maine Attorney General were to meet about the recurring dispute involving payment.

The Board of Corrections voted in March to withhold the Somerset County Jail’s third-quarter payment of about $280,000 because the county is using revenue from the boarding of federal prisoners partly to pay down debt for construction of the new jail.

In response, Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong stopped accepting out-of-county inmates.

DeLong also closed the Somerset County Jail to out-of-county inmates for four months last year during a similar dispute with the Board of Corrections about payments.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
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