AUGUSTA — A corrections expert from the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday questioned whether Maine’s system of county jails can continue without widespread changes and lots more money.

“You’re not crazy,” consultant Rod Miller told Maine’s Board of Corrections. “You’re trying to do too much with too little.”

He said too many Maine jails are in disrepair, warehousing inmates who are more dangerous than before and staffed by corrections officers with increasingly low morale. Not every jail is facing such serious problems, but they are failing as a network of jails, he said.

Miller compared his role Tuesday to a doctor delivering bad news.

“The patient, as currently defined, is terminal,” he said.

Miller met with the Board of Corrections to discuss his findings after three weeks of visits to Maine’s 15 jails. Those visits followed a request by the board to the U.S. Department of Justice for help with its system, a one-of-a-kind creation in the country.


In 2009, Maine jails joined in a system that relied on a combination of local and state funding to operate. A set level of local property taxes would continue to pay for a majority of the expenses. In theory, the state would fund the growing gap between county funding and actual costs. Instead, funding hasn’t kept up with rising costs, Miller said.

Miller cited 2 inches of documents that he collected into a draft report, analyzing such things as the best possible use of personnel at each jail, their safe capacities and a growing number of violent incidents.

In the case of the Androscoggin County Jail, a chart showed steep increases in the number of incidents in the past four years.

In his draft report, Miller cited a “serious deterioration of inmate behavior” that posed “serious challenges and risks” to the Auburn jail’s staff.

Miller compared data from the first five months of 2008 to 2013. Overall, incidents rose from 53 in 2008 to 170 in 2013.

During that period, threats from inmates rose from five to 20. Refusals to obey staff rose from 11 to 25. Incidents of property damage rose from 10 to 21. Disorderly conduct cases climbed from 19 to 84, and cases of assault went from eight to 20.


John Lebel, administrator of the Androscoggin County Jail, said it was a clear result of changes within the jail.

In 2009, the new system reclassified the jail to make it a pretrial facility. The jail now has fewer inmates who have been sentenced and are more controllable, mostly because bad behavior can prolong their jail sentences. The jail, like every other crowded facility in Maine, is too often forced to classify inmates as medium or minimum security threats because that’s where the beds are.

“That’s a recipe for all kinds of problems,” Miller said.

On Tuesday, the Androscoggin County Jail had a population of 150, Lebel said. However, the jail has only 24 single-bunk cells for the most difficult inmates. The rest, no matter how unruly, must be part of the wider population.

Miller recommended that every jail in the system have an operational capacity, a kind of circuit breaker to the population problem. Beyond that limit, inmates from other counties would be admitted only at the discretion of a supervisor in the local jail.

For example, if only minimum-security inmate beds were available at the jail, only minimum-security inmates would be allowed in.


Such a system would work only if it were applied in every county and as long as the staff at each jail could meet the demand. At too many jails, budget cuts have reduced staff and worries over funding have delayed filling the open jobs or giving raises to staff who were due.

That money and funds to better maintain the jails is needed for the system to endure, said Miller, who recommended that members of the Board of Corrections serve as advocates for the jails with the Maine Legislature.

Board Chairman Mark Westrum insisted that he and others have been advocates.

“We did try,” he said. “We made our case. Unfortunately, it didn’t get funded.”

The money is needed, Miller said.

The Board of Corrections has asked counties to submit budgets calling for zero increases. And Westrum has been told to brace for an across-the-board cut in state funding.

Miller counseled counties to instead submit budgets based on need.

“You have to get enough money to pay for what you have,” he said.

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