Androscoggin jail plagued by heat, crowding

AUBURN — The Androscoggin County Jail hit its highest-ever population this week, crowding more than 160 inmates into cellblocks designed to hold about 90 people.
 
It's not the only jail facing crowding. The Cumberland County Jail and Two Bridges Regional Jail, which serves Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties, are also nearing their limits.
 
On Thursday, the Androscoggin jail's population surged to 165, five beyond the 160-inmate capacity authorized by the Maine Department of Corrections. On Friday that number dipped to about 155, but with weather forecasters looking for a hot and sunny weekend, jail officials are bracing for a busy weekend with lots of local arrests, Sheriff Guy Desjardins said.
 
The weather is also exacerbating the building's cooling problems. The cooling system has been handicapped for about a month.
 
A replacement compressor was installed Monday on the jail roof, but the compressor has been idle. Hard-to-find pumps were needed. Then, a starter malfunctioned. On Friday afternoon, the cooling system began functioning but only at partial power. 
 
Temperatures inside the cinder-block jail had risen to about 85 degrees, Desjardins said. 
 
"It's the perfect storm," he said. "Both things are hitting us at the same time."
 
Desjardins didn't know when final repairs to the cooling system would be completed. Meanwhile, he and his staff were working on the crowding.
 
Jail officials have alerted the Maine DOC to the population surge. They've been looking for empty beds in other jails. They've also asked the Oxford County Jail, which is a 72-hour holding facility, to keep its inmates until at least Tuesday before transporting them to the Androscoggin County Jail.
 
"We don't have any place to put them," Desjardins said. "It's a nightmare."
 
Some inmate cells, which were originally designed for only one person, have been crowded with three.
 
Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said his jail is just 20 shy of its 470-inmate capacity. He is being squeezed by both a high number of inmates and a shortage of jail guards. He has at least 10 openings, he said.
 
Mark Westrum, administrator of the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, said he wished he could help, but his facility is "full to the brim."
 
"We just don't have room," he said. "I hate like heck to say no to Androscoggin."
 
His capacity is 174 inmates, he said. But on Friday, the population hit 183. The last time the population surged so high, one of his corrections officers was attacked from behind by an inmate and assaulted.
 
"He was bruised up pretty good," Westrum said. Two other officers were hurt in the scuffle.
 
He blamed crowding. And he does not add inmates when he can help it, he said.
 
"I'm not going to put my officers in harm's way," he said.
 
Part of the problem is Somerset County leaders' decision to shut down part of their jail in Madison. Commissioners there argued that the state was reimbursing too little of the inmate costs. It costs less to keep a section closed, they said.
 
However, the beds are needed, argued Westrum, who serves as chairman of the Maine Board of Corrections. 
 
The board might challenge Somerset County's decision, forcing the county to reopen the full jail, he said.
 
It's forced some ridiculous moves, Westrum said. In May, Somerset stopped taking Franklin County inmates, forcing deputies to take their prisoners to the Wiscasset jail.
 
Such moves must stop, he said.
 
"We're not in crisis yet," he said. "We're certainly in chaos."
 
dhartill@sunjournal.com

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Comments

Getting more than they deserve

These prisoners do not need air conditioning, three meals a day, television, cigarettes, etc... They need to spend their time contemplating how they will straighten out their lives so they don't return.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio has the right idea. He is saving Maricopa County money and has lowered the number of returns back to his jail!!!

Wilma Turcotte's picture

Overcrowding

Well isn't that just to sad that these prisoners are overcrowded and they are hot. Did they ever think if they had kept their noses clean they could be out in the fresh air. There are alot of people putting up with temps 85 or more and they have to work in it. Maybe they can just get them a room at the HIlton Garden so they will be more comfy. Sick of all the useless crooks and others that are being allowed to milk the system and then complain cause its not the Taj Mahal. Of course they have to suffer as well cause they can't smoke there either but like the rest living off the system they manage to find almost 8 bucks for a pack of cigarettes but heaven forbid we would put a stop to that either. They got rights RIGHT??

Andrew Jones's picture

They could take some pointers

They could take some pointers from Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on how to handle hot weather and overcrowding. Androscoggin County Tent City, anyone?

Wilma Turcotte's picture

Pointers

And unfortunately there are so many stupid people with authority that are trying to hang this man cause he is trying to help this country by making going to jail not something that one would want to do. Maybe they could just protest being overcrowded. Worked for a bit in New Mexico when they rioted over it and about 35 of them got killed. That made a bit more space but if you don't want to work but have got used to eating good then you just commit a crime and you got a home, 3 squares and you don't have to do anything oh yeah and throw in a free lawyer. That punishment does not seem to be a deterrent for some reason. That sheriff is stopping and questioning Mexicans. Who is it that is coming across the border? Hmmm Mexicans I bet.

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