Sheriff looking at options for inmate housing

by Rick Haverinen,special to the Sun Journal July 20, 2016

PARIS — Oxford County officials continue to brainstorm ways to resolve its jail funding shortage.

The Oxford County Jail is licensed by the state Department of Corrections as a 72-hour holding facility, so the county has to transport its long-term prisoners to larger facilities in other parts of the state.

The county had been relying on the Cumberland County Jail in Portland to house its inmates, but Cumberland officials notified Oxford County officials this year that it was increasing the per-day boarding cost from $50 to $108, starting July 1.

Jail problems discussed
Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, right, updates county commissioners Tuesday on the cost of housing inmates at other facilities as Jail Administrator Ed Quinn listens.

That announcement was shocking to Oxford County officials, who were predicting a corrections program funding shortfall even before that news.

Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant briefed county commissioners Tuesday morning about his efforts to resolve the funding challenge. He described his trip last week to visit Cumberland County officials. County Commissioner Tim Turner and County Administrator Scott Cole accompanied him.

"I felt like I was going to a poker game and they were spotting me some money and (they were saying,) 'Just keep playing and we'll keep spotting you,'" Gallant said.

Gallant told commissioners the annual amount Cumberland County is seeking will raise the Oxford County tab to $1.3 million.

"I understand they have a problem," Gallant said. "They've got to deal with their constituents and the people of Cumberland County, but we people from Oxford County have to think of ourselves as well, and they're wanting what we don't have."

Cole and other county officials negotiated the per-day cost from $108 to $70 until July 14, and last week bargained the same reduced rate until Sept. 30, after which time it would shoot back up to $108.

County Commissioner David Duguay said he thought that even at the temporary $70-per-day rate, Cumberland County would be operating at a profit.

The higher boarding rate has Gallant looking at facilities other than Cumberland County.

"If we go to Two Bridges (Regional Jail in Wiscasset) it's a difference of 10 miles one way, so it's 20 miles difference for travel," Gallant said, "but we have an excellent working relationship with (Twin Bridges Administrator) Mark Westrum."

Gallant said the Twin Bridges board will meet soon to consider the Oxford County proposal to remove its inmates from Cumberland County to Wiscasset. He also discussed overtures to the Department of Corrections to upgrade the license at Oxford County so inmates could be housed indefinitely at the Paris facility.

"We have the DOC coming up Thursday to do a site inspection to come up with some ideas that they can bring back to the commissioner (and) his staff ... of what our capacity could be, and what a safe (inmate count would be) for the employees we have right now. We're looking to get our licensing back at the maximum capacity that we can get."

Gallant said the county does not have enough money to increase the jail staff.

"We can't afford $108 a day," Gallant said, "and really the $70 a day to me is high. But if we bring them back, we're going to save ... $90 something a day per prisoner. So if we can house 10 to 15 here, that's going to be a considerable amount of savings."

Gallant said Two Bridges estimated their cost would be $66 per day per inmate, and they might be able to accept 20 to 25 prisoners.

Commissioner Steve Merrill asked Gallant if the DOC personnel would be able to make a decision about upgrading the Paris jail license during the inspection.

"That's a couple more weeks down the road," Gallant said, "but they told us they're going to expedite this process. They know the pain we're going through. They know the concerns we have ... So we've got a process in place, we talked to Franklin County. They're willing to help.

"We may not take them up on their offer, the sheriff said. "We think we can be more comfortable with Two Bridges and our own facility, and see where that takes us. I feel bad for Cumberland County, because my feeling (from last week's) meeting is that they projected revenue that they put in their budget, and that's a chunk of change (lost) if we end up taking everybody out."