Sheriff Kevin Joyce inside the medical unit at the Cumberland County Jail in February 2022. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

More than six months after the Cumberland County Jail closed its doors to most arrests, persistent staffing shortages are expected to continue to hamper the facility for several months, and possibly years to come.

“If I could do it tomorrow or today, it would be done,” Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said Friday.

In September, the sheriff closed jail intake to most arrests, except for people charged with violent felonies or domestic violence charges, or for people with previous arrest warrants.

Joyce said he hopes to fully open the intake department by summer, but that will depend on whether he can hire enough corrections officers to staff the prison safely. “I’ll know when I see it,” he said.

In the meantime, by shifting intake staff to other roles within the prison, Joyce said he has done his best to paper over a severe staffing crunch that has sometimes forced corrections officers to work three overtime shifts in a week, the maximum allowed under a union agreement.

A recruitment effort has helped the jail fill about 15 vacancies since September, and another nine workers are set to begin their training at the Criminal Justice Academy or are in the final stages of the hiring process, Joyce said. But even if those hires all work out, the jail will still be down 63 people out of 185 authorized positions, not counting those on temporary leave.


As a result, offerings like the Community Connections Center, once the “gold standard” for programs dedicated to reintegrating prisoners into society, will remain shut down for at least two or three more years.

And with no hope of hiring a full staff in the immediate future, Joyce plans on taking some existing positions out of his budget recommendation for the upcoming fiscal year.

The sheriff said it will “take some outside-the-box thinking” to get more new hires in the door and get the jail back on track.


It wasn’t long ago that Alan Gregory faced stiff competition for a job in the corrections field. He remembers being one of some 60 applicants who applied for just 13 positions in 2009.

But things have changed.


“Now they’ve got people walking around with sandwich boards,” said Gregory who until recently coordinated the corrections officer training program at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. ‘”Please come and work for us. Please come and work for us.'”

The number of people interested in corrections work had already been declining steadily for years, but COVID’s arrival saw the pipeline in Maine dry up almost completely, according to Gregory.

He cited several contributing factors, including generational shifts in the workforce and widespread criticism of the criminal justice system in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

Whatever the root cause, the difficulty of hiring new corrections officers has had a knock-on effect on existing workers, he said.

“You’ve got guys that are being worked beyond capacity,” Gregory said. “Right now, we are finding burnout in huge quantities.”

A 2022 study of 103 correctional officers found that 45% reported post-traumatic stress symptoms and 32% reported mild to severe depressive symptoms.


Given the high stakes of corrections work, lowering hiring standards is not an option, Gregory said. Instead, the Criminal Justice Academy has begun emphasizing scenario training designed to prepare new recruits for the physical and mental challenges they’ll face while working in Maine’s prisons.

“It’s the development of resiliency in the officers that we are starting to pay close attention to,” Gregory said. “It’s a brutal job.”


Joyce’s decision to close the jail’s intake department has frustrated some police officers, who have issued some people citations, only to watch them go on to commit further offenses.

In October, Interim Portland Police Chief Heath F. Gorham publicly criticized the jail’s policy after a man allegedly assaulted Portland officers shortly after he was released following an OUI arrest.

“This is beyond frustrating,” Gorham said in a statement following the incident. “Something has to be done soon as this policy is putting our officers and our community at risk. We were fortunate there were no serious injuries.”


But with no other options, officers have done their best to accommodate the jail’s intake policies.

“I’m trying to have a little bit of empathy,” said Lt. Todd Bernard of the South Portland Police Department. He noted his own team, like many law enforcement agencies across the state, is dealing with staffing problems of its own.

In Scarborough, police have funneled more low-level offenders through diversion programs intended to address root causes for crime, like mental health and homelessness, Lt. Scott Vaughan said. When officers feel strongly that an arrestee should be detained, the jail has generally been accommodating.

While Vaughan acknowledged some officers have likely been frustrated at points, they’ve mostly been understanding; Scarborough and Brunswick officers frequently supervise prisoners who need medical treatment at a hospital, which eases the load on corrections staff.

“They’re doing what they can,” Vaughan said. “We’re waiting for things to get better.”



As long as hiring continues to be a struggle, Joyce said his focus is on maximizing the efficiency of the jail’s operations.

By shuffling prisoners and moving some arrestees to York County, Cumberland’s jail was recently able to close an entire wing, eliminating the need for four or five weekly shifts and easing the overtime burden on corrections officers. Soon, changes in the court system could do away with most remote hearings, which would free up more staff time, according to Joyce.

Yet what the jail may really need, Joyce said, is a significant investment.

The jail can’t generate the revenue it needs without housing more prisoners, a task it can’t take on without hiring more staff — and paying for upgrades required by the U.S. Marshals Service when it withdrew more than 40 prisoners held under a $2.65 million contract in September. 

With younger workers seemingly indifferent to generous insurance and retirement packages, cold hard cash could be the only way to lure the corrections officers that are the lifeblood of the prison system, Joyce said.

The pay for Cumberland County correctional officers starts at $23.33 per hour, according to an online job posting.

“As much as I hate to say it, because I don’t want to see my taxes go up … gone are the days where you can nickel and dime,” Joyce said. “To attract individuals into a public safety role is going to take, predominately, money – something that makes an individual say, ‘You know, I never thought I’d do that, but boy, I’ll tell you: they’re making a good wage.’”

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