ALFRED — The York County Jail plans to close one of its units and transfer at least 30 of its 200 prisoners to the Cumberland County Jail because of a staffing shortage.

The move – a temporary measure expected to last four months – highlights the difficulty of hiring and keeping jail workers in a roaring economy.

A four-month contract between the counties is designed to take pressure off York County Jail staff, many of whom have been forced to work overtime.

But a representative of the corrections union said the move does not address the underlying issues of attracting people into a career with low pay and a challenging work environment, especially during an economic boom that has led to record-low unemployment.

“If you can make X amount of dollars stocking shelves, versus getting into fights with new inmates coming into the facility who are detoxing from alcohol or opioids … some folks say, you know what, we’ll go stock the shelves,” said William Doyle, Regional Director for the National Correctional Employees Union, which represents corrections workers in both jails.

Jail administrators were using forced overtime to make up for the gaps. By contract, jail managers are permitted to order staff to take on two extra, eight-hour shifts per week. Corrections officers are allowed to work a total of 72 hours weekly if they so choose.

A FINANCIAL ‘WASH’

The agreement approved Wednesday by York County commissioners provides for four months of boarding at $65 per day for 30 to 35 inmates. If 30 inmates are transferred, the cost for the initial period of the agreement works out to roughly $58,000 per month, and about $234,000 over the four-month span.

Between savings in the York County budget from the unfilled positions and the extra overtime costs for the remaining corrections workers, the result is a financial “wash,” York County Manager Gregory Zinser said.

York County Sheriff William L. King Jr. called the staffing shortage “critical” and said moving inmates to Cumberland County temporarily is designed to give officers a break.

“We wanted to relieve staff and get back on track. I look at it like a reset,” King said. “The staff are getting burned out.”

Major employers such as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Pratt & Whitney compete for workers in the region. For the York County Jail to compete with those employers, Doyle said, the county would have to approve across-the-board raises. Starting hourly wages would have to rise by $4 or $5, from the current $16.80 rate.

SIGN-ON BONUSES

Unemployment statewide is at 2.9 percent, and it’s even lower in the southern part of the state – 2.4 percent in Cumberland County and 2.6 percent in York County, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Statewide joblessness peaked at 8.3 percent in June 2009.

To bring in applicants, the county also has begun offering $1,500 sign-on bonuses and a $1,000 bonus to current employees who help recruit a new hire.

While both Cumberland and York are down from their budgeted staffing levels, the shortfall in Alfred is particularly acute, where the 20 vacancies are nearly one-fourth of the authorized 76 corrections positions.

Cumberland County, by contrast, has a budgeted jail staff of 150 and 12 to 15 vacancies, roughly 10 percent of the workforce, Cumberland County Manager Jim Gailey said.

NO NEW UNITS NEEDED

Gailey said the influx of new inmates will not require Cumberland County to open any additional units, meaning the new prisoners will be absorbed into the currently staffed areas of the jail.

Gailey said discussions about the transfer plan began in October, and if the process goes smoothly, prisoners could be arriving on County Way in Portland in the coming weeks.

Although Gailey did not release a copy of the contract, which has yet to be finalized, he said York County staff will be responsible for transporting prisoners to their court dates, and the transferred prisoners will be taken from the general population, excluding people housed in maximum security.

King hopes the temporary move will allow time to sift through about 25 applicants who have signed up to become York County corrections officers in recent months. But not all are likely to make the cut after the application and screening process.

Applicants must pass a written test and background check before they are sent to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to undergo corrections training, which could be completed as soon as February.

The York County Jail, which can hold 296 prisoners, has about 200 inmates now.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or at:

[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.