If duct-taping and chokeholds are how Androscoggin County Jail guards treat each other, how do they treat the inmates? Probably better.
The firing, resignation and suspension of three jail guards for late-night pranks is an embarrassment to Androscoggin County and the sheriff's office. Jailhouse surveillance video caught employees acting like idiots, duct-taping a colleague to a chair and rolling man and chair into the elevator, and choking a co-worker until the man became woozy. Both occurred during late-night or early-morning hours.
What this behavior shows, to us, is a lack of professionalism in the jail, as well as a lack of actual work to do during graveyard shifts. The jail administration seems to have a few idle hands on its payroll. And we know what mischief idle hands can come up with.
The surveillance video proves it.
The Androscoggin County Commission was right to uphold the firing of one guard by Sheriff Guy Desjardins. Although the union complained it was unjust, an example must be set that this type of juvenile behavior is intolerable. The jail is a workplace, not an off-hours clubhouse.
Go choke and duct-tape your buddies on your spare time, on your dime, not on that of the public.
At its core, this is a management issue. Jail personnel must have either ignored, or completely disregarded, the possibility of punishment for their actions, otherwise they likely wouldn't have behaved so cavalierly. So, what can be done to fix it?
Our first thought is the same suggestion we've always made: a charter. Let's take Androscoggin County — a relic of the Middle Ages shire town governance — and give it a professional management structure. Too many questions and loopholes in authority now exist.
In the current budget proposal, commissioners have set aside $10,000 for a charter commission. That's a good start. Now, officials within the county who support a charter — which include Sheriff Guy Desjardins — should put their minds where this money is.
These jail incidents, too, should influence talks on the budget. Taxes to Androscoggin County towns are proposed to increase by 4.24 percent, according to present calculations. Taxpayers will pay almost $10 million to run county operations, a giant chunk of which is the jail.
This money is not well spent if it's paying guards to fool around during the overnight shift. And why should other critical services be given to the county — such as dispatching — if there's video evidence of employees not exactly taking their positions of authority seriously?
To be fair, the incidents involving jail guards could be extreme and unusual. And the county acted wisely to rectify this situation.
Yet the fact remains: the county, top to bottom, needs to put its house in order. We can overlook stupid antics, if we're assured the organization is doing the best job for taxpayers. We aren't.