FARMINGTON — The Franklin County Detention Center is now licensed to take back its inmates as a fully operating jail after years of boarding them at jails in other counties.

The jail was closed five years ago under a state law signed in 2008 that consolidated the state’s jails under central leadership and reduced the Franklin County jail to a 72-hour holding facility. The county then had to pay about $600,000 per year to board out at other jails its inmates who needed to be held longer than 72 hours.

On Friday, the jail was reissued its license by the Department of Corrections to begin full operations and to take back its 22 inmates held in Somerset County. The inmates include those who are being held pre-trial or have been sentenced for crimes.

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols said the jail was renovated earlier this year to increase its capacity from 29 inmates to 39 inmates in hopes of not only taking back its prisoners but eventually to board prisoners from elsewhere to help alleviate overcrowding at other Maine jails.

“By us bringing our prisoners back, that allows Somerset to bring more prisoners in, and then additionally on top of that, we can assist other agencies by bringing in prisoners,” Nichols said Monday.

Nichols said some of the inmates have already been returned to the jail, and the others will be brought back in phases through the week.

The troubled unified county jail system is in flux this legislative session, as lawmakers look to find a solution to chronic funding and overcrowding problems happening around the state. The Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety is weighing a bill, L.D. 186, that could overturn the current system and return oversight of the jails to the counties.

If the system is overturned, Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty said his county’s jail, which is boarding out about 50 inmates, would need to assume responsibility for finding places to board out its inmates. Liberty has previously raised concerns about overcrowding at the Kennebec County jail and has asked area police departments to limit arrests for minor nonviolent offenses in order to ease the stress of jail crowding.

“Either the state takes over the county or the county takes it back, so if the county takes it back … I’ll have to find opportunities for beds, and Franklin County will be at the top of our list,” said Liberty.

Nichols said the jail is seven employees shy of pre-consolidation staffing levels — there are 19 full-time employees now — but has rehired enough new employees so they can safely manage the jail, but stay under the amount of taxes that are capped for this fiscal year. Nichols said he hopes the jail consolidation is reversed because it would allow his office to take in revenue for boarding out-of-county inmates.

Under the consolidated system, jails such as those in Somerset County receive quarterly payments to board inmates from other jails, and jails like Franklin County pay into the system to board out inmates. When the now-defunct Board of Corrections gave the Franklin County jail permission to re-open, it did not return the $315,000 Franklin County paid to board out its inmates or set the county up to receive quarterly reimbursements for taking on outside prisoners.

Somerset County Sheriff Dale Lancaster said that by returning Franklin County inmates to their local jail, the East Madison jail now will have bed space available for other inmates from other jails.

Lancaster said the move doesn’t change the jail’s funding picture, because it still will get a set amount of operational support money from the state no matter whose inmates are housed in Somerset County. He said the Somerset jail, when running at full capacity, has an average daily population of 192 inmates and typically has between 25 and 30 Franklin County inmates at a time.

Nichols said the Maine Sheriffs’ Association is looking to set up a standard boarder fee for all state jails if the consolidation system is reversed.

As part of the jail re-opening, Jail Administrator Doug Blauvelt said the county will be able to restart a work release program in which eligible inmates can work in the community and get time off their sentence for the time worked.

Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis said the town worked with the jail to have inmates on work release perform labor for the town, primarily at the town cemeteries.

In a 2009 letter to former sheriff Dennis Pike, Davis had requested 2,600 total hours of inmate labor in 2010. Davis said with minimum wage at the time, the value of the labor would have been $18,850. He said when the program is reinstated, the town is looking forward to having the inmates work for the town again.

“It was a really good program because in addition to providing that assistance to the town free of charge, it got the inmates out and gave them some experience that could help jobwise,” Davis said. “We found that these folks were good workers and conscientious. They were often times people who just made mistakes and were pretty trustworthy.”

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]


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