Sheriffs agree on Oxford County inmate arrangement

by Peter McGuire, staff writer Sun Journal Nov. 9, 2013

PARIS — Sheriffs from five counties have worked out an agreement to house Oxford County prisoners in nearby facilities to prevent traveling to and from jails as far away as Wiscasset.

On Friday, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant said sheriffs, chief deputies and jail administrators from Oxford, Cumberland, Androscoggin, York and Kennebec counties had a "very productive" meeting at the Sheriff's Office in Paris on Thursday afternoon to discuss housing prisoners. 

At the meeting, the sheriffs resolved to normalize Oxford County's agreement with Androscoggin and Cumberland counties and create additional efficiencies within the system to reduce travel between far-flung facilities.

According to Gallant, Oxford County prisoners serving more than 60-day sentences will be housed at the Cumberland County Jail in Portland, while those with shorter sentences or awaiting trial will be housed at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn. 

The arrangement is the same one the counties agreed to in 2009, when Oxford County Jail was reduced to a 72-hour holding facility, requiring the county to transport prisoners to and from larger facilities as part of a statewide jail consolidation plan, Gallant said.

As long as inmate numbers remained stable, the arrangement worked. In April, however, Cumberland County stopped taking Oxford's inmates due to overcrowding. 

As a result, Oxford County has been sending inmates to whichever county has available beds. On Friday, Gallant said 10 Oxford County inmates were being housed at Kennebec County Jail in Augusta about 60 miles away, while two others were staying at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. The county has sent inmates to Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, which is more than 80 miles from Paris. 

With the restored agreement, the county should be able to bring those prisoners — especially those waiting to appear in court — closer to Oxford County and lessen the burden on the Kennebec County Jail, Gallant said. 

On Friday, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said his county temporarily stopped taking Oxford County prisoners mainly as a way to leverage funding from the Maine Board of Corrections.

Cumberland continued to take prisoners when it had available space, Joyce said, and with funding from the Board of Correction, it was able to resume housing Oxford's inmates. 

Joyce said the meeting also gave sheriffs an opportunity to discuss other efficiencies, such as trying to keep prisoners from northern jails in Aroostook and Penobscot counties in Kennebec County, and Oxford County prisoners in jails in the southern counties. 

The Cumberland County Jail has been housing inmates from far-flung counties, creating long travel times, Joyce said. 

Although it stabilizes the situation for the time being, Gallant called the sheriffs' agreement a "band-aid" and doubted the arrangement was sustainable without some form of reform to the state's jail system.

Joyce agreed that the arrangement might not be sustainable, and said a better funding strategy at the Board of Corrections was needed to make the system run more efficiently.