FARMINGTON — Franklin County officials say they face a logistical nightmare because Somerset County commissioners recently decided to stop accepting inmates from other communities at their jail.

But despite the problems by the sudden change forced upon them, many Franklin County officials this week said they understand and support Somerset County’s decision to shut down a portion of its jail, according to Franklin County Commissioner Gary McGrane.

McGrane defended Somerset County officials, who have cited insufficient state reimbursement for housing inmates as the reason they will no longer accept prisoners from other counties.

“We have no animosity toward Somerset County, but we do have some disgruntled feelings against the state (government),” McGrane said.

McGrane, of Jay, blamed the situation on the state’s decision in 2008 to reshape the jail system for counties. Along with other changes to jail budgeting, that’s when Franklin and Oxford counties’ jails were reduced to 72-hour holding facilities, forcing them to send their inmates to jails in nearby counties.

And since Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong made the decision to stop taking inmate transfers, Franklin County has been scrambling to find alternatives to house its inmates without driving them hundreds of miles to other jails, McGrane said.

Earlier this week, Franklin County asked for a waiver to enable the count to house inmates in its own jail in Farmington beyond the 72-hour limit, McGrane said. But the state Department of Corrections rejected that request and required the county to seek out available beds in other jails around the state, he said.

Instead of housing its inmates about 30 minutes away at Somerset County Jail in Madison, for instance, Franklin County this week has already started sending its inmates to Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, which is one of those designated to take inmates from other counties but is about a two and a half hour drive from Farmington.

Franklin County Sheriff Dennis Pike this week said that jail had the only available space for inmates.

The situation has put a lot of pressure on the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to meet the increased demand on its correctional officers tasked with transporting inmates, he added.

Because inmates from Franklin County communities have to make it to court appearances in Farmington, the added time correctional officers spend driving to and from faraway jails causes a variety of problems, Pike said. For example, a correctional officer would have to leave at 3 a.m. to pick up an inmate in Wicscasset and make it back to Farmington for an early court appearance.

He said “it’s an absolute, total nightmare,” because of the added overtime costs and staffing problems.

He also said there is an increased public safety risk because of the extended time prisoners are outside jails.

Pike called the state government’s decision to reshape the county jail system a “well-intentioned dismal failure.” He noted the state corrections officials plan to meet soon to address concerns raised by Somerset County and other communities.

“I’m guardedly hopeful that the folly of a failed jail system takeover in July 2008 may soon have some amendments and reversals,” he said.

David F. Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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