AUBURN – State prison officials have boosted the rated capacity of the Androscoggin County Jail, raising the number of inmates the downtown Auburn jail may detain without violating state rules.

“Our goal is to try and stay as close to the standard as possible,” Sheriff Guy Desjardins said Friday.

However, the county has been forced to bend the rules a lot lately due to continued crowding.

The 18-year-old jail – it was designed to hold 80 to 90 inmates – has been rated with a capacity of 118 people.

It’s population has routinely surged higher, though.

On Friday morning, the total was 128, Desjardins said. Recent weeks have seen the numbers hover between 150 and 160 people.

Under the new capacity, 160, that would be allowed.

“It’s a good step for us,” said Capt. John Lebel, the administrator of the jail. “But we have to make some changes.”

Plans are in the works to install new bunks in some cells, doubling up spaces meant for a single inmate. New seating is needed for some of the common areas, and the state wants the jail to replace inmate storage with fireproof bins.

The state’s wishes were detailed as a result of a two-day examination of the jail conducted last October.

The visit had been part of the the state’s drive to take over county jails, an effort that changed into the formation of a jail network, scheduled to begin work on July 1.

Inspectors visited each of the 15 jails in Maine, looking for details on which jails had room for more inmates.

They found temporary bunks and crowded common rooms in the Auburn jail. They also found that the rated capacity could be raised.

For Desjardins, the rating change means that inmates filing lawsuits against the county would have less ammunition, should they argue that crowding contributed to problems.

It also sets a threshold for the new jail network, led by a yet-to-be-appointed Board of Corrections.

The board will be overseeing crowding issues.

If the population surpasses the 160-inmate mark, the board will direct the jail to send its inmates elsewhere at a still undefined cost.

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