AUGUSTA — Officials representing eight county jails in Maine that are facing shortfalls have asked the state for $2.9 million in additional annual funding.
Law enforcement and corrections officials said the 2015 overhaul of the state’s county jail system has failed to fix housing and budgetary issues.
Legislators are proposing bills to reform funding, reduce pretrial detention costs, create drug treatment programs and address the cost of jails boarding transferred inmates. Republican Sen. Eric Brakey said his bill would tackle the issue of inmates being incarcerated in county jails longer then the statutory limit of nine months.
But a state Department of Corrections official and several members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee said Wednesday that a more comprehensive approach may be needed to handle jail problems. The Legislature approved a total $14.6 million for county jails last April for spending from 2015 to 2016.
“No individual bill is going to fix the county jail problem,” said Deputy Corrections Commissioner Jody Breton. “If you do one thing, you put a Band-Aid on it for a year and then come back to the same issue.”
Breton noted that the department has 40 secure beds for men open, and said that county jails as a whole have open beds.
Jail and county officials said they are being as fiscally responsible as possible, while some lawmakers expressed concern about the impact of higher property taxes if the jail funding formula is changed.
“We’ve cut as much as we can,” said Norman Fournier, an Aroostook County commissioner.
“The easier thing to do would be to tell all the communities to take care of your own prisoners,” Fournier said. “That’s not our intent.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Dion, a former Cumberland County sheriff, is proposing having law enforcement agencies pay for each day certain nonviolent prisoners are held before arraignment.
But John Pelletier, who heads the Legislature’s Criminal Law Advisory Commission, said that training and direction from lawmakers, instead of financial incentives, should guide law enforcement officers’ decisions.