The exterior of the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — The Androscoggin County jail is seeking to recoup costs for housing prisoners sentenced to serve time in state prison.

At the direction of Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson, the county brought a civil complaint against the Maine Department of Corrections and Commissioner Randall Liberty for reimbursement of expenses in housing state prisoners since last spring.

Peter Marchesi, attorney for the county, said the county has boarded state inmates for a total of 875 inmate days. That means one inmate might be housed for 875 days or 875 inmates might be housed for one day. At a rate of $60 per inmate day, that amounts to $52,500, he said.

On May 15, Gov. Janet Mills issued an executive order authorizing Liberty to block transfer of prisoners from county jails to state prison facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mills’ order “shifted the state’s responsibilities and obligations with respect to its own prisoners to the various counties and jails which they operate,” Marchesi wrote Monday in a news release.

As the state sought to protect its prisons from COVID-19 infection, it transferred that risk to the counties’ detention facilities, Marchesi wrote.

Not only did the county jails have to house more inmates than they otherwise would have, but they assumed a greater risk of COVID-19 infection to their inmates and staff, he wrote.

When the county “requested a partial refund on behalf of its taxpayers,” the state refused, Marchesi wrote.

Either the county could bear the entire cost of housing state prisoners or seek compensation through the courts, he wrote.

“Faced with these unfortunate alternatives, the county has determined that it has the responsibility to its taxpayers to recover what they are rightly owed,” Marchesi wrote. “The time has now come for the state to comply with its statutory obligations to provide for the safekeeping of its own prisoners as well as to honor its moral and ethical obligations by reimbursing the taxpayers of Androscoggin County for the amounts that they advanced to the state of Maine in order to assist the state in its time of need.”

A clerk at Androscoggin County Superior Court said Monday that the court hadn’t received the county’s complaint, which Marchesi said was mailed that day.

In the complaint, the county “seeks reimbursement for the reasonable costs and expenses of housing state prisoners,” but doesn’t specify an amount. Terms of imprisonment up to nine months are served at the county jail. Inmates sentenced to terms of more than nine months are normally transferred to a state prison.

Marchesi said Monday he isn’t aware of any similar civil complaints filed against the Maine DOC. He said he’s also unaware of any voluntary payments from the state to counties for reimbursement for housing state prisoners.

Anna Black, spokeswoman for Maine DOC, said the department had no comment about the lawsuit at this time.

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