FARMINGTON — Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. told a crowd during a protest Wednesday that he plans to upgrade the jail’s status from that of a 72-hour holding facility, with or without the state’s blessing.

About 100 residents came to the demonstration organized by Nichols, carrying signs and at one point briefly chanting “Give us our jail back.” Nichols said he hopes the protest sends a powerful message to state lawmakers that the system is broken and needs to change.

Nichols said the sheriff’s department is going to begin hiring the personnel it needs to re-open the jail as a fully operating facility instead of a 72-hour holding facility.

“We’re going to reinstitute this thing. We’re just going to do it,” he said.

He said the department will begin hiring more corrections officers, asking those who were laid off to resubmit applications and searching for someone to work in the jail’s kitchen.

“All I’m asking for is we get our jail back. I don’t care if we remain within the law,” he said.

When the crowd laughed at that statement, Nichols said what he meant was he there is a way work within the law to upgrade the jail’s status, such as converting it to a minimum-security jail.

Nichols thanked the public for its support. He said recent overwhelming backing from the county’s residents got more of a reaction from the Legislature than he and other county officials have been able to elicit.

“When you folks started putting the pressure on, … it really sent shock waves,” he said.

Franklin County residents have been emailing, calling and sending letters to the Board of Corrections and state representatives and senators after a Facebook group administered by Nichols’ wife and son called “Give Franklin County Our Jail Back” urged them to do so. The group provides its 600 members with template letters and the contact information for the officials.

Sandra Weber, of Farmington, said she came to the protest because she thinks it is important for the county to regain control of the jail.

“I think it’s a bad idea to send prisoners that far away from their families, and it’s a bad idea financially,” she said.

Robert Patterson and his wife, Joan Patterson, who were standing nearby holding signs, said they were there because they don’t want to pay tax dollars to the state for a jail the county can’t fully use.
“We’re here to advocate for the jail to be controlled locally,” Joan said.

Nichols said the purpose of the jail consolidation act, which reduced the jail’s status four years ago, was to make the jail system more efficient and cost-effective. However, he said the law has wasted county time and financial resources by forcing officers to shuttle inmates between the Franklin County courthouse and the Somerset County jail, which is 30 miles away.

He said when inmates are taken out of the county, it also unnecessarily separates them from their families and lawyers.

“There are a whole lot of unintended consequences,” he said of the consolidated system.
Wednesday’s demonstration was spurred by a conversation during a county budget meeting last week when Ryan Morgan, chairman of the Farmington Board of Selectmen, said that after unsuccessfully trying to change the status of the jail through the Legislature and the Board of Corrections, the county should take matters into its own hands and reopen the jail.

Nichols said taxpayers are paying the state to operate a facility that doesn’t function as a proper jail, costs $125,000 in additional transportation costs and places inmates in jails that are unnecessarily far from their defense lawyers and families. Franklin County municipalities also saved about $50,000 per year in labor from inmates who were serving sentences in the county.

Nichols said he realizes how unorthodox his situation is.

“This is really weird to have a sheriff lead a rally. I’ve never done this before,” he said to the crowd, which laughed.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
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