Legislature overrides LePage
veto of jail bill

Staff report Sun Journal May 2, 2014

Veto Coverage: List of vetoes considered and who in our coverage area voted to sustain or override.

LEWISTON — More money and new structure will give a boost to Maine's jail system following the Legislature's vote Thursday to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of the plan.

In its second time through the Legislature, the bill drew more than the two-thirds majority needed to block LePage, who characterized the plan earlier this week as “doomed to failure.”

“A little pressure is off,” Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins said after the vote. “(But) we're still going to be cutting and saving as much money as possible.”

The new law will restructure the Board of Corrections, created in 2008 to bind together the state's 15 county jails. It shrinks the board from nine members to five, gives them authority to move inmates among county facilities and creates new standards for budgeting. It also included $1.2 million to help the jails get through the final months of the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Without it, Desjardins was worried he would run out of money by mid-June to pay his corrections officers. Other sheriffs, including Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, braced for layoffs, early furloughs of inmates and closure of whole jail sections.

Desjardins, who had instituted a hiring-and-spending freeze at the jail months ago, planned to loosen the spending a little. He hoped to hire two corrections officers to fill some of the vacant positions at the jail, he said. Others, including a detective's position, will be left vacant for now.

“We need to hold the line on spending,” Desjardins said.

In Franklin County, news of the override was met with disappointment. Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. said passage of the bill would relieve some immediate money troubles, but changes to the board did not equate to a fix of the system.

“It strengthened a few things within the Board of Corrections itself,” Nichols said. “But it doesn't take care of the monetary issues that are there and will continue to be there."

More sweeping changes were needed to craft a lasting solution, he said. His preference would have been state approval to return his 72-hour holding facility to a full-service jail, which the Board of Corrections has denied.

“We're going to be right back here again next year before the Legislature, asking for more money,” Nichols said. “What has it solved?”

Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant was more optimistic.

He likes the smaller board and was heartened by work Thursday to institute a statewide classification system that would determine which level of security an inmate needed, whether they were in York, Aroostook or Oxford County.

“This is going to be one fit for all,” said Gallant, who also is working with a 72-hour holding facility rather than a full jail. Classification can be a big issue because many of his inmates are housed at other facilities.

“I'm glad," he said. "We can move forward.”

However, he believes more changes must eventually be made to the jail system for it to work as well as it should.

“It's not an end-all solution,” Gallant said. “But it certainly puts us in a direction where we don't have to worry so much."