LEWISTON — The chairman of Maine’s Board of Corrections plans to make one final plea to talk with Gov. Paul LePage about the immediate and long-term effects of tearing down the network connecting the state’s 15 county jails.

About half of Maine jails — including the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn — could begin running out of money by April, Corrections Board Chairman Joel Merry said.

“The long term is about policy,” Merry said. “The short term is really a public safety issue.”

Jails could be forced to lay off staff, reduce the times that they accept new inmates from local police departments or even release some inmates before their sentences are completed, Merry said.

The five-member Board of Corrections — the body that oversees Maine’s 15 county jails — has never operated as it was intended.

Since it was restructured by the Maine Legislature last spring, LePage has withheld his two appointments. The board has limped along with a bare majority of three members until last week, when Amy Fowler, a Waldo County commissioner, resigned.


It left only Chairman Merry, who also serves as the Sagadahoc County sheriff, and Carleton Barnes Jr., a consultant from Calais.

The board’s only two staffers also have given their notices. Mallory Pollard, a financial analyst, resigned in mid-December. The board’s executive director, Ryan Thornell, will leave Jan. 28.

On Wednesday, Thornell sent a memo to leaders in every county, suspending all future Board of Corrections meetings.

“There’s no sense of the board meeting because we can’t conduct business,” Merry said.

Without the board, there is no structure in place to oversee the county jail system or deal with funding issues, including expected shortfalls at several Maine jails.

Merry said his final hope for the board is to convince LePage to change his mind and appoint people to the three open positions, at least temporarily.


“We will be asking the governor one more time to reconsider these appointments,” Merry said. “We really need the board to function, even in the short term. We need supplemental funding and we need to be able to disburse that effectively.”

It won’t be easy.

Since last spring, Merry has twice asked for a chance to talk with LePage. He was denied both times.

“It’s a necessity,” Merry said. “It’s about public safety.”

The county jail system is expected to fall about $2.5 million short of expenses by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, he said.

“Jails have these costs, these expenses, and they have no money,” Merry said.


In Aroostook County, the shortfall is expected to be about $700,000. In Penobscot County, it’s expected to surpass $500,000.

Other shortfalls are likely at jails in Cumberland, York and Kennebec counties and the Two Bridges Regional Jail, which serves Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties.

It’s uncertain how much of a deficit might be felt in Androscoggin County, Sheriff Eric Samson said.

On Wednesday morning, he met with Lt. Jeff Chute, the acting administrator of the Androscoggin County Jail, to discuss where savings might be found.

In some cases, jobs might be left unfilled and capital expenses could be put off. The jail will try to avoid overtime costs among corrections officers by using lower-wage reserve officers when possible, he said.

Samson said he was more worried about the long-term effects of a change in the county jail system.


Currently, property taxpayers in Androscoggin County pay about $4.2 million of the jail’s roughly $6 million cost. The rest is paid by the state through the Board of Corrections.

Samson worries that the state could pass the gap funding — more than $1.7 million in Androscoggin County — back to local property taxpayers.

“There’s no plan to make that up,” Samson said. “That’s my concern.”


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