The Franklin County Detention Center will be upgraded to a fully operational jail after a state board agreed to allow the county to hold inmates longer than the current 72-hour limit.

The jail’s re-opening is intended to help with severe overcrowding in jails elsewhere in the system, such as in Kennebec County, where the jail is sometimes more than 40 inmates over capacity, “becoming dangerous for the facility,” according to Ryan Thornell, executive director of the state Board of Corrections, which voted Monday night to end the limits on inmate stay at the Franklin County facility.

The move resolves, at least temporarily, years of conflict between the county and the state about the partially closed jail, and it is intended to resolve overcrowding in jails across the state. However, the board’s executive director said the jail system as a whole remains mired in unresolved financial problems as it faces a looming $2.5 million shortfall.

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said Tuesday that he, Jail Administrator Doug Blauvelt and other county officials are working on plans to restore the jail to full-time use in about six weeks.

In 2008, the state consolidated the jail system and reduced the Franklin County jail to a three-day holding facility, which requires the county to transfer inmates held longer than 72 hours to the Somerset County Jail in East Madison and other jails at an annual cost of about $600,000.

County officials have long been critical of the jail’s status reduction, which means the jail staff members must shuttle inmates between the Somerset County jail and Franklin County jail for court appearances in Farmington. County leaders argue the arrangement wastes staff time and increases expenses.

Officials also have argued that the jail’s reduced status compromises officer safety because it leads to reduced staffing levels and removes inmates from a local support system that could reduce their likelihood of re-offending.

“When the board denied Franklin County’s request in the past, it was strictly to do with funding,” Thornell said. “It wasn’t due to anything Franklin County had done wrong; and to the credit of Franklin County staff, they have kept the jail in a position to be opened almost immediately.”

Franklin County was not the only jail in the system reduced to a 72-hour facility. Use of the Oxford County jail also was limited to short-term stays, but the county is not in a position to restore it to full-time use, officials said. The jail in Waldo County, the other facility with limited inmate stays, is partially restructured as a re-entry center.

Along with the change to the Franklin County jail, Thornell said, other major changes may be coming to the state’s jail system.

Although the system faces a $2.5 million shortfall this year, it has little left to cut from the budget. Kennebec and Penobscot are facing “dangerous” levels of overcrowding and the Aroostook County jail is in “dire financial straits.” As of Monday, all but two members of the Board of Corrections had resigned, and its executive director intends to resign on Jan. 28, resulting in an assistant attorney general advising the board to stop holding regular meetings because it lacks enough people for a quorum.

Thornell said the governor’s office and the Legislature have been informed of the problems, and he anticipates the issues will force changes to the system this session.

“The future of the board of corrections is very uncertain and very unstable,” he said. “I do think you’ll see something in the near future that would change the way the jails are run.”

Much of the debate about the jail revolved around the Franklin County jail not wanting to pay the state for the cost of boarding inmates in other facilities.

However, while the county won’t have to send prisoners elsewhere, it will not get a refund of the $315,000 recently paid to the state for boarding inmates until July 1. At the same time, the state agency will not pursue $100,000 in funding the county withheld on its state invoice.

Nichols said the county will be able to maintain operations by using money from its surplus and will be able to budget for the jail in the next fiscal year, which starts in July, although he would rather receive some money back from the state.

“Do I like it? No. But at the same time, we’re getting our jail back,” Nichols said.

Over the past two years, county officials have been vocal in opposition to the jail’s status. About 800 people joined the Facebook group “Give Franklin County our jail back” in protest. The sheriff held a protest outside the Franklin County Courthouse to demand the jail be reopened. County commissioners voted multiple times to not pay invoices from the board of corrections. County officials sat in the front row of board of corrections meetings and demanded that the jail’s status be restored.

Nichols credits the persistent opposition of county officials to the reduced status as being responsible in part for the board’s decision to restore it.

“We’ve been a stone in their shoe by being as vocal as we can,” he said.

Nichols said he expects the status transformation will take place over the next six weeks.

While many of the details still need to be worked out, Nichols said he hopes not only to open the jail back up as a 29-bed facility, but also to restructure it to hold 40 beds. He said increasing the number of beds could address overcrowding in the jail system if Franklin County goes from sending its inmates elsewhere to taking in inmates from overcrowded facilities in other counties.

Blauvelt, who directs jail operations, paused Tuesday during a day suddenly filled with meetings and phone calls to say that he was hopeful that needed inmate programs and additional staff for the jail could be in place within six weeks.

The jail will need to be issued a new license by the Department of Corrections in order to reopen, but Blauvelt said he is starting to implement a detailed plan to restart operations.

“I’ve been planning on this for years,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.