LEWISTON — More than two decades after Tim Lajoie walked inside a Maine cell block as a corrections officer — in 1991 at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham and in 2004 at the Androscoggin County Jail — the Lewiston Republican wants a jail of his own.
Lajoie wants to be the county’s sheriff.
He wants to restructure the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Department to be more inclusive, encouraging more ideas from its rank-and-file corrections officers, patrol deputies and dispatchers. He wants to wrestle control of the jail from the state — “I think local control is always better” — and he wants to encourage local police agencies to book fewer people in the jail who are accused of nonviolent, misdemeanor crimes.
“You have to make some hard choices,” said Lajoie, who has watched crowding in the 24-year-old jail hit 180 inmates. It was designed for about 100 people.
“I understand the desire to want to keep bad people in jail. There are some bad guys in this community,” Lajoie said. But you can build bigger buildings or you can really scrutinize whether someone needs to be in the building.
Some people who fail to pay fines or drive without a license should not be spending weekends in jail over first offenses, he said.
“I don’t think everybody inside needs to be there,” he said. “I would like to see a little more discretion.”
Taxpayers deserve the attention, said Lajoie, who grew up in Lewiston and lives in his boyhood home with his wife and his mother.
He got into corrections by accident.
After studying at the University of Maine at Farmington for a year, he joined the Coast Guard in 1987. His four years there — working in law enforcement and search and rescue — matured him, he said.
When he finished his enlistment, he went to work at the Windham prison. He spent five years there before he returned to school to study theology.
He became a prolific student, earning degrees in biblical studies and theology, but he returned to jail work when he returned to Lewiston to help his mother and ailing father.
In 2004, he arrived at the Androscoggin County Jail, working as a corrections officer and a dispatcher. He serves as a night shift corporal.
And he has more to share than he’s currently allowed, he said.
He said the department disenfranchises too many of its people with its administrative structure, which he describes as “this whole top-down, paramilitary type ranking structure.
“I think it stifles growth and it stifles creativity,” he said. “As I talk with people who want to contribute or I want to contribute, I see those efforts and desires stifled by people.”
It also makes money sense, he said.
If people felt more valued, they would likely call in sick less and save the county money, he said.
If elected, he knows he would likely face problems right away on the jail budget, which requires state money to make ends meet. That control needs to be severed, he said.
“I don’t like what the state has done to the jails,” he said. In 2007, the state capped the county share of every jail budget in the state and agreed to pay the difference.
“I think local control is always better,” Lajoie said. “I think Androscoggin County decisions ought to be made by voters in Androscoggin County.”