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Sheriffs say jail consolidations not exactly beneficial
COUNTY — Two years after the 2009 consolidation of the Androscoggin and Oxford county jail systems, local jail administrators are questioning the impact the consolidation has had on jail finances.
Oxford County Jail Administrator Ed Quinn says that he opposes the “one Maine, one system” network of jails; he is not sure that it will be of any benefit to the future of Maine's county jail system, financially.
“I am absolutely against the consolidation of county jails,” said Quinn. “The problem is whether budget and economics will stay the course or not.”
Quinn says that the new mission, put into place by Governor Baldacci, is not living up to the expectations of its supporters.
"It's not serving any justice," he said. "The vision was that if we could hold long-term prisoners in bigger facilities, then we might see bigger savings. But I have not seen any huge savings as of today."
Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins says that he supports the concept, but that a sour economy has prevented the benefits of the consolidation from being seen.
"It was no question that [Baldacci] was looking for ... savings; but unfortunately, as soon as the legislation was passed, the economy went south quickly and dried up a lot of the funds," said Desjardins.
Desjardins says that the consolidation was an investment that will see eventual dividends.
"Our capital spending for jail consolidation is $4.2 million," he said. "I am willing to make it work. In order to save a buck, you have to spend a buck."
Quinn explained that he and his co-workers have been "trying to formulate different ideas and cost-saving measures."
He said that one way to do this is to cut back on the frequent transportation of prisoners from one facility to the next.
"It's not very cost-effective," said Quinn. "I see it as a burden being placed on bigger jails."
Operationally, Androscoggin County Jail has not seen many savings. "We are about $17,000 under last year, and that comes with the [pre-trial] population increase," says Desjardins.
Desjardins explains that an increase in pre-trial inmates means more money is needed. "Pre-trial inmates are more needy than sentenced inmates, who don't require the same amount of medical help," he said.
Desjardins says that incoming prisoners need more care than an established prisoner.
"It's the transition period when prisoners need more care," he said. "Sentenced inmates are more stabilized. More money is spent on medical stabilization."
Quinn and Desjardins say that the lean times have created a budget crunch that threatens to dramatically change the way the jail system operates.
Quinn explained that Androscoggin has run into financial trouble because it simply isn't retaining long-term prisoners like it used to.
"What I am afraid of is that we are going to become a warehouse," said Desjardins. "I thought Baldacci's plan was to improve how we treat our inmates. But we don't have a big enough budget to even give them the proper care."
"I basically just book my prisoners in, cook for them, and have control over them for the short time they are here," agrees Quinn. "Everyone is fighting for money, because everybody has to operate."
According to Desjardins, Oxford County prisoners that don't make bail before 72 hours are sent to Androscoggin County. "If they don't make bail then they stay here until they go to trial, "he says, "And I end up losing money because we don't have the money to provide the care they need while they are here."
He says that the number of pre-trial inmates has drastically increased in the past two years. "We didn't anticipate the additional expenses that came with maintaining pre-trial inmates, nor did we anticipate just how many of them we were actually getting."
According to Desjardins, unless more money is coming in, the Board of Corrections might have to look at more mission changes and even shutting places down because of inadequate funding.
"I just hope that no matter how tight the money is," he said, "we will do something [for] these folks because they are also members of the community."