LEWISTON — An effort to examine Maine’s foundering jail network — and find a fix — now rests with a 15-member group of appointees who will meet next week with the public.

On Oct. 4, the Commission to Study Board of Corrections is scheduled to host a public hearing in Augusta. Meanwhile, appointees are gathering in three-member subcommittees to discuss issues ranging from the establishment of state standards for jails to the board’s lack of authority and whether more money could be found to support corrections.

They began their work Sept. 20.

“I was impressed with the motivation and the tone for the first meeting, said Mark Westrum, chairman of the Board of Corrections and a member of the new commission. “We talked about a lot of things but we didn’t commit to anything at this point in time.”

Besides Westrum, who also serves as the administrator of the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, the group includes John Lebel, the administrator of the Androscoggin County Jail; Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry; Rep. Aaron Frey, D-Bangor; Sen. Patrick Flood, R-Winthrop; Kennebec County Administrator Bob Devlin; Cumberland County Administrator Peter Crichton; York County Administrator Greg Zinser; York County Sheriff Maurice Ouellette; Sagadahoc County Commissioner Max Dawson; Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci; Cumberland County Commissioner James Cloutier; and Kennebec County Jail Administrator Marsha Alexander.

The group, which is being chaired by former Central Maine Power director David Flanagan, faces lots of problems.


For the last two years, the work of the four-year-old group has been dominated with budgets.

Several jails, including the Aroostook and Penobscot county jails, have been sorely overcrowded. Yet, several jails, including the Cumberland County and Two Bridges, are working at below capacity due to budget constraints.

Others, including officials in Somerset, have opposed the Board of Corrections’ authority to place inmates wherever it chooses.

Last week, the board denied Franklin County’s request to restore its facility to a full-service jail. This week, its county commissioners voted to withhold funding to the jail network.

“It’s disheartening,” Westrum said of the Franklin County decision. However, he hopes that such problems will be resolved by the new group, which is supposed to report its findings.

John Lebel, the administrator of the Androscoggin County Jail, also hopes for the best.


However, he worries that six meetings by the full board and work by subcommittees may still be too little to find an answer to such complicated problems.

“Given that schedule, my opinion is that I think we should tackle several of the more pressing issues,” Lebel said. He worries that analysis might be “lost in the weeds.”

The group is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Oct. 4 at Augusta’s Marquardt Building.


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