AUBURN — A bill to strengthen Maine’s six-year-old network of county jails was scheduled to return to lawmakers Thursday, two days after Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the measure and described its state-county partnership as “doomed to failure.”

“The bill masquerades as a fix to the Board of Corrections system, but it is nothing more than a bill of goods that was passed by those without the fortitude to fix one of the most troubling parts of the state budget,” LePage said in his veto message.

However, supporters of the bill, including some Republicans, say its failure could be catastrophic to the jails. Besides making structural changes to the system, the bill includes $1.2 million in gap funding meant to help the 15 county jails and holding facilities get through the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

Without that money, some jails will have to implement layoffs, partial closures and early release of inmates to save money, officials said.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Guy Desjardins said he would be spared the worst effects of the money shortfall because of a spending and hiring freeze that began months ago.

With overcrowding teetering at all-time highs — the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn had 170 inmates, 10 more than the state limit, on Wednesday — he cannot lay off any staff, he said.


He estimated he would run out of money to pay his corrections officers in June, he said.

“I’m not going to be able to make the last payroll, and depending on when the bills come in, there will be a few bills that I’m not going to make,” he said.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce issued a statement Wednesday saying he would be forced to close a portion of his Portland jail, lay off some officers and stop holding inmates for other counties. Among those inmates are people from Oxford and Androscoggin counties.

Republican Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, who helped shape the bill, said he worried that too few lawmakers realized the implications of sustaining a veto.

“I’m frustrated for a lot of reasons,” said Wilson, a member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee. “If this legislation fails, it puts the jails in a very tough position. It will lead to layoffs. (And) there’s no plan for a state takeover.”

Franklin County Sheriff Scott Nichols Sr. said Wednesday that it would cause pain.


“If the bill fails, it’s going to be ugly for the next couple of months and you’re going to see a lot of furloughs of prisoners out there on the streets,” Nichols said. “If that happens, I’m going to be going to the state for us to have our jail back.”

His jail is operating as a 72-hour holding facility, and longer-term inmates are housed at the Somerset County Jail in Madison.

The present jail system was created in 2007 and took effect the following year. Property taxes were capped at 2008 levels and additional money for the jails was to be raised by the Legislature.

The jails were bound together by the nine-member Board of Corrections, which oversees how state funding is spent by county jails.

In his veto message, LePage condemned increases in jail spending that have raised the state share of jail funding from zero in 2008 to about $18 million over six years.

He called it “a case study in how wrong Democrat experiments can go.”


The proposed bill would shrink the size of the Board of Corrections to five people, establish new budgeting rules and allow the board to force jails to take inmates from other counties.

In its first pass through the Legislature, it drew overwhelming support. In the House, the approval vote was 128-15. In the Senate, the vote was 31-4.

Rep. Michel Lajoie, D-Lewiston, a co-sponsor of the bill, guessed that the governor’s veto of the bill had about a “50-50” shot of being overridden.

“It would be sad to see individuals who had voted for the process to move forward to vote in opposition this time,” Lajoie said

House Republican Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, declined to predict support for the bill a second time. However, he said closed-door caucuses before the first vote were “contentious.”

“It was not a surprise that it was vetoed,” he said. “This probably falls within the scope of a handful of bills that has the possibility of being overridden, but not because it’s good policy but rather because the system is so bad at its current point.”


Board of Corrections Chairman Mark Westrum said Wednesday that he agreed with many of the complaints about the current system. But a lack of promised state funding crippled the system from the start, he said.

“It set us behind on the very first day,” he said. Though funding went up initially, it didn’t meet demand, particularly for those counties that had new jails and big loans to pay off. “We’ve never been able to climb out of that hole.”

Westrum, who serves as the administrator of the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, also criticized LePage’s former Corrections Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, for repeatedly saying he was against a state takeover until he called for a takeover in February.

“The whole thing reeks,” Westrum said.

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