FARMINGTON — Franklin County officials are hoping Tuesday will be a chance to make progress in their efforts to restore the county jail to a fully operating facility.

After years of frustration with the state’s consolidated jail system, Franklin County officials scored a small victory last week when a Board of Corrections working group unanimously voted to recommend the board reinstate the jail’s full-service status.

The working group found Franklin County would be able to open a fully operating jail under a $1.6 million operating costs cap. The county currently raises that money to operate its 72-hour holding facility and to compensate other county jails for housing their inmates, mainly in the Somerset County Jail.

The working group will present its recommendation to the board, which has the final say in the decision, at a 2 p.m. meeting in the AMHI Complex’s Marquardt Building, room 301A. According to the meeting agenda, the Board of Corrections has alloted a 10-minute time slot to review the recommendation from the working group.

Residents who want to attend the meeting are encouraged on the “Give Franklin County Our Jail Back” Facebook group to meet at the Top of the Hill Grill in New Sharon at 1 p.m. to carpool to the meeting.

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said the switch to a full-service jail is necessary to counteract the consequences the consolidated system has created for Franklin County.

Jail Administrator Doug Blauvelt has said he could operate the jail, if reinstated, on a $1,589,518 budget in the coming year.

In 2008, prior to making the switch, the jail operated for $1,531,421, according to Franklin County records. After the consolidation on July 1, 2009, the county paid an average of $1,645,689 annually to operate the Farmington complex as a 72-hour holding facility and to other counties to jail its longer-term inmates.

Nichols and Blauvelt have criticized the system for forcing them to pay to operate a broken system when they could operate a fully functioning jail on a similar budget. Under the current system, the sheriff’s department has reported wasted time and money in shuttling imates between Farmington and the Somerset County Jail in Madison.

The majority of the transportation costs involved gas and transportation staff. Nichols said his small staff is stretched thin and overtime is inevitable under the consolidated system.

From the time of the jail consolidation until Dec. 31, the Franklin County jail spent a total of $39,257 in 1,549 hours of overtime related to transporting duties, according to county records. Jail personnel traveled 101,182 miles transporting inmates during that time period and spent $16,592.19 in gas, according to the records.

Because the county, grouped together the jail and sheriff’s department budgets before the consolidated system, data were not available detailing how much was spent in gas specifically by the jail prior to the switch.

County municipalities saved about $50,000 annually in labor from inmates who were serving sentences within the county. The report states that between 2005 and 2009, inmates worked about 10,000 hours per year performing public works such as lawn mowing, snow removal and gardening for the local food bank.

According to the report, the jail is now operating at lower staff levels, which the report stated has at times jeopardized safety. Staffing levels for a fully operating jail would reduce those risks, it states.

Attorney Walter Hanstein said his law office is concerned the jail as it stands is expensive for the state, inconvenient for defense attorneys and unfair to inmates.

He said people who are awaiting trial and can’t afford bail may have to wait months in a jail too far away for family to visit, for a petty crime or even to be acquitted.

For inmates who have been convicted and are serving a sentence, Hanstein said, it is harder for Franklin residents to eventually qualify for work release.

In cases where the defense lawyer is a court-appointed attorney, a lawyer could have to make a handful of 30-mile trips to visit an inmate that could have been held down the street.

The Joyce, David & Hanstein law firm submitted a letter presented to the Board of Corrections saying the lack of a local, fully operating jail might create scenarios where inmates’ equal protection rights are violated.

Hanstein said that if people do not receive equal protection under the law, there has to be rational reasoning for it. For example, he said, there is a safety rationale in the different treatment that allows a 30-year-old to drive a car and prevents a 12-year-old from doing so.

He said if a displaced Franklin County inmate does not have the same opportunities as a similar inmate who is incarcerated in his own county then that could be a case of not being equally treated in the legal system.

It can be difficult to get sympathy for the issue, he said, from residents who are not inmates and haven’t had a personal encounter with the legal system, but as taxpayers they should still be concerned.

“If we’re paying all this money to have a legal system, we ought to try to make it as fair as it can be,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder – 861-9252
[email protected]

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