AUGUSTA — Somerset County’s jail will have to keep housing inmates from other counties but will not get any outside money to pay the bill, the state Board of Corrections ruled Tuesday.

The board decided not to give the county a fourth-quarter payment and said jail officials would not be allowed to bill other counties for housing their inmates.

Somerset County Sheriff Barry DeLong, whose jail also did not receive a third-quarter payment, sent an email last week to all sheriffs and jail administrators in Maine, saying the county would continue to provide beds for out-of-county inmates but would bill the other counties $84.50 per day per inmate.

When the board voted in April to withhold the third-quarter payment, it essentially removed the jail from the consolidated jail system, because the attorney general’s office advised the board that Somerset was using federal boarder revenue illegally for county expenses.

Though the county is no longer being paid by the state, the Somerset jail still is housing inmates placed there by the consolidated jail system. DeLong said Somerset County taxpayers should not be footing the bill to house out-of-county prisoners.

The board approved a letter to DeLong saying he should retract his email because he does not have the legal authority to bill other counties. The board’s letter states that Somerset County never asked permission to charge boarding fees and the board has never authorized any county to do so.

Waldo County Sheriff Scott Story said it sets a dangerous precedent for Somerset County to operate outside of the coordinated jail system and sends a message that jails can leave the system and not abide by its rules when they have a problem with it.

“I think we need to bring them back into the fold any way we can,” he said.

Story said the consolidated jail system needs Somerset County’s bed space to alleviate overcrowding. Several jails reported they were housing prisoners over their capacity, and he said the counties need to address the problem soon or accept the liability that comes with overcrowding.

“We should not wait until we have a corrections officer or inmate seriously injured,” he said.

Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said he is concerned that jails such as those in Aroostook and Penobscot counties are strained from operating for more than five months with around 30 more prisoners than their recommended capacity.

Liberty said his department is working on a pilot program that would centralize the process of trying to find bed space in the state for those extra prisoners. He said the current practice of sheriffs individually calling the county jails to see who has available space is inefficient.

The board found enough money to pay the rest of the county jails by withholding Somerset County’s quarterly payment and by asking other jail officials to reduce their funding requests. Reductions included delaying purchases, continuing to hold needed capital improvement projects and leaving unfilled positions vacant.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
[email protected]

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