Maine’s jail system was broken, so much so that it prompted dramatic action in 2008. That’s when a new county-state collaboration was launched to make jails more efficient.

I’ll be the first to say that it was a rocky start, but after much hard work, we are now at a point where we can see light and true direction for Maine’s consolidated jail system. We have a chance to build on that work and push that progress forward.

A bill, that will soon be considered by the full Legislature, offers thoughtful solutions, but the possibility of a veto is looming over this proposal. Those of us who have worked together to craft this bipartisan measure worry that a veto will derail the consolidated jail system when it is finally on track and picking up speed.

Since 2008, we have seen problems such as overcrowding at some jails while others have empty beds. Funding problems have led to some jails closing a portion of their facilities and an inability to maintain staffing at optimal levels. Transportation costs have shot up for some. Facilities and programs have suffered as jails grapple with financial crises.

We’ve seen the struggles at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn. Sheriff Guy Desjardins has faced the possibility of being unable to fund basic security measures. A severe budget shortfall last year could have led to a shutdown that, thankfully, was averted.

But even though that particular dilemma was resolved, county jails continue to suffer budget woes because of a flawed funding system that cannot deliver. Our property tax dollars are going toward this failing system. We owe it to our taxpayers to use their dollars wisely and efficiently.


The Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, of which I’m a member, has been working diligently to solve those and other problems at Maine’s jails. We’ve been working for two years, taking into account the findings of a blue ribbon commission and collaborating with stakeholders such as sheriffs and local government officials.

The result is a LD 1824. It’s bill that has the backing of the Maine Sheriffs Association, the Maine County Commissioners Association and the Maine Municipal Association. I strongly believe it deserves support from my fellow lawmakers, as well as from Gov. Paul LePage.

The county-state partnership was formed with the aim of making jails more efficient and to serve as an alternative to a proposed state takeover of jails that included shutting down four facilities.

The changes included new roles for some jails, such as turning some facilities into 72-hour holding facilities and greater responsibilities for others. A new funding method capped the use of property taxes and made jails reliant on state dollars for other costs.

The new state Board of Corrections also emerged from the overhaul. It was charged with improving efficiencies across the system and reducing recidivism, among other things. But it wasn’t given the authority or means to accomplish them, according to the blue ribbon commission headed by David Flanagan, the former Central Maine Power Company CEO who served as general counsel on the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee Investigation into the Hurricane Katrina response.

The unfortunate results of the consolidation included an unrealistic funding process, a lack of standardization across facilities, the sacrifice of successful programs, a failure to adequately address mental health needs and hazy goals and objectives.


LD 1824 addresses those problems by authorizing major financial reforms, providing guidance for county jail operations and clarifying the management authority of the BOC.

The bill creates a more systematic and controlled budget process that is both more streamlined and better able to predict the cost growths of a facility. It sets up benchmarks for the unified system and increases the accountability of individual jails. It continues to provide incentives for counties for efficiency and creates a system-wide capital improvement plan. It makes clear the lines of authority and duties of the BOC, county officials and the sheriffs who oversee the jails.

We need this bill to restructure the county-state partnership and clarify issues around funding and management so the jails in our state can operate efficiently and in a cost-effective manner. We must push forward with workable solutions that build on the solid foundation we now have in place.

If Gov. LePage undoes this good bipartisan work, our county governments and law enforcement agencies will be thrown into crisis and jails will face financial disaster. We must say no to such a veto.

Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, is serving his third term in the Maine House of Representatives.

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