AUBURN – Lawbreakers in Oxford County have begun serving time in cells at the Androscoggin County Jail, part of an initiative aimed at saving state taxpayers $1 million a year.

“We’re taking the first steps toward becoming a regional jail,” Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins said Thursday.

Two days earlier, five inmates from the Paris jail arrived at the Androscoggin County facility in Auburn. More are slated to arrive next Tuesday and Thursday until virtually all of Oxford County’s inmates are gone.

On July 1, the Paris jail will be reclassified as a 72-hour holding facility.

Beginning then, anyone arrested in Oxford County will be taken to the holding area for up to 72 hours, then transferred to Auburn.

To make room for the new inmates, the Auburn jail is sending inmates who have had their trials and have been sentenced to more than 90 days to the Cumberland County Jail in Portland.

This excludes anyone who has been sentenced to a year or more. As a rule, those people enter the state prison system.

Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant has criticized the move, saying projected savings by the state have been overstated, particularly since his staff will be responsible for transporting inmates to Auburn or Portland.

Desjardins said he was hopeful that the new system will work, particularly since compromises were reached. Originally, all sentenced inmates were going to be sent to other jails.

“We would basically be a warehouse,” Desjardins said. The provision to keep inmates with sentences of 90 days or less in Androscoggin County allows greater flexibility in how the pool of inmates is used.

“We’ve created a kind of jail hybrid,” Desjardins said.

One big change is the use of sentenced inmates for programs in the community. Their work includes cleaning parking garages, mowing cemetery lawns and painting schools.

In May, a group of 62 people convicted of operating under the influence spent a week doing odd jobs in Auburn. Together, they completed more than 1,400 hours of work. At roughly $10 per hour, the work was worth more than $14,000 and cost the city only a few hundred dollars, said Peter Bushway, Auburn’s Parks and Recreation director.

“It’s a pretty good trade-off,” Bushway said. “It’s been extremely valuable for us.”

Similar work has been done in Lewiston, Greene, Turner and elsewhere around the county.

It also brings in revenue to the county. For the privilege of working on the projects – instead of going to jail – first-time offenders pay $150 to enroll and second-timers pay $400.

The changes in the inmates should have little effect on such programs, Desjardins said. They also should change little in the sometimes-crowded jail.

State officials have capped the jail – which has a rated capacity of 160 inmates – at a population of 145. The 15-inmate buffer is meant to ensure that room is there in case an event occurs with many arrests.

On an average day, the Auburn jail is expected to hold 20 Oxford County inmates. The Cumberland County Jail is expected to house about 18 Androscoggin County inmates.

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