RUMFORD – Law enforcement leaders from Western Maine are ready to submit legislation that would provide an alternative to the governor’s proposal to take over county jails, closing five of the 15.

The five jails targeted for closure are in Oxford, Franklin, Piscataquis, Waldo and Kennebec counties.

“My main concern,” said Franklin County Sheriff Dennis Pike, “is that if you are in the more densely part of the state, it might be considered. The problem is, we’re in rural Maine where we travel hundreds of miles.”

Chief Stacy Carter of the Rumford Police Department said that many of the costs for handling prisoners and those arrested would shift from the state to the municipalities.

“By closing two out of three jails (in Western Maine), all these municipalities and the state police would be hurt because they would have to travel to Androscoggin County with prisoners,” Carter said. “This would take officers away from their communities in towns with only one person on duty, which would be a detrimental effect on safety.”

Also, he said, with higher gasoline and labor costs, state money may be saved, but municipal money would not.

As a selectman for Farmington as well as Franklin County’s sheriff, Pike said taxes could rise because of additional costs needed to fund the local police department.

Because of those beliefs, the Jail Advisory Committee, made up of sheriffs, county commissioners, city managers and other law enforcement personnel, hired Luminosity Inc., a consulting firm from Florida, to devise an alternative plan.

In that plan, all county jails would be kept open, with an accounting of all open beds throughout the state. The county jails would be administered by a new agency, the Maine Jail and Community Correction Authority. This new agency would work closely with the state prison system.

Carter said the plan, still tentative, would save about $4.6 million in 2009, and more in subsequent years.

At a meeting of Jail Advisory Committee members Thursday, a spokesman for the governor submitted an amended plan that would keep all county jails open, but would change the five slated for closure to 72-hour facilities, contracted by the state for holding prisoners before they are arraigned.

Wayne Gallant, Oxford County sheriff, does not like that plan for his jail. Additional time would be needed to transport prisoners to pretrial jails, and that could be anywhere, he said.

And, he added, more than 100 county jail employees would lose their jobs, while adding hundreds to the state payroll.

He, and the Maine County Commissioners Association and the Maine Sheriffs Association, are also concerned that county property would be taken over by the state without legal authority, as well as eliminating county revenues.

Carter, Gallant and Pike believe the alternative plan, although it may be tweaked, would be workable while still providing some savings.

Carter said between 30 and 40 legislators are prepared to submit the alternative plan to the Legislature for action.

First, both the governor’s plan and the alternative plan must go before the Criminal Justice Committee for public hearings. That is expected sometime within the next few days, said Gallant.

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