In 2008, the 15 Maine county jails were consolidated into the Bureau of Corrections under the authority of the Department of Corrections.

When the BOC took over the county jail system, the citizens of Franklin County were paying $1.6 million to operate the facility. At that time, our jail was a full-service jail with a full complement of corrections officers on each shift with food service, medical care and inmate workers.

If a person were sentenced to less than nine months, they stayed and became an inmate of the county sheriff. If a sentence exceeded nine months and one day, they were transferred into the state DOC system.

In 2008, Franklin and Oxford counties became the only two “holding facilities” under the authority of the BOC. This change in mission made our two jails short-term facilities with the mission of housing inmates for up to 72 hours.

At the expiration of, or prior to, that designated time the inmate either had to be transferred to another BOC site or be released. Franklin County prisoners were primarily designated to be housed at the Somerset Correction Facility. Oxford prisoners were sent to the Androscoggin County Jail.

Because of this change in the system, we were forced to lay off eight corrections officers, support staff and we lost our inmate workers. We also lost the capability to house up to our bed capacity of 24 inmates, and were downsized to hold only nine inmates.

Now, because there are only two corrections officers on duty at a time, the control room, which is the security center of the jail, is frequently unmanned. Officers carry keys to all of the interior and exterior doors, which is a violation of rules set by the DOC.

The county taxpayer also was required to continue funding the jail at the $1.6 million 2008 figure set by the BOC. This figure has become the “cap” for our jail.

For the past four years, we contributed $1.6 million to the consolidated system. Last year, our cost to operate the facility was just under $1 million. The balance of $600,000, raised through county taxes, was swept into the overall system to fund other jails or programs.

An example of one of those programs is that the BOC is responsible for any and all repairs to the jails. Prior to 2008, the Franklin County Detention Center was a well-maintained facility, and money for repairs was budgeted locally.

Funds for repairs are now controlled by the BOC and repairs are being delayed or not being done because of more pressing needs in other facilities. Taxpayers in Franklin County own the jail building in Farmington but have a limited say on the care and upkeep of their multimillion-dollar building.

Twice, recently, the Bureau of Corrections has stopped payment to Somerset County for housing our prisoners because of financial problems within the BOC system. This has required the manger of our facility to find inmate beds in other jails.

Currently, we are housing Franklin inmates in Wiscasset. That means our transport deputies travel to and from that jail to leave or return inmates for court, medical appointments or release.

Housing inmates in other counties is problematic to defense and prosecuting attorneys, the court, investigators and families of these people. A major security concern with transporting inmates is the additional opportunity given to flee from custody.

One major function of a county correctional facility is to rehabilitate the minimum security inmate through education and work release programs. We are failing to do that if the inmates are not located in their own community where we can monitor their progress. We are now relying on others to do this and hope they have done a good job.

We are funding a system that is not prepared to operate 15 county jails efficiently. I believe it is time the sheriffs and legislators challenge the existing law and return to a county system that worked for 173 years here in Franklin County.

Thomas White of Jay is a detective with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

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