Wednesday, 23 May 2018 12:52

Funding for Maine's county jails remains in limbo

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AUGUSTA (WGME) - Millions of dollars in funding is still up in the air for Maine's county jails and without it, there could be cuts and closures.

Legislators say there are still more than 100 bills left on the table here at the State House, many of them involving funding. For Maine's 15 county jails, that funding could mean the difference between staying open and closing.


"This is serious stuff. I understand the Legislature has not funded schools and all these other things as well but this is going to affect public safety," Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said.


The jail funding bill at issue would provide $14.2 million for next year's budget and $3 million to cover shortfalls from this year. Come July 1, those shortfalls will grow significantly if a funding bill is not passed.


"The legislature needs to fund the jails. Some jails are going to have to shut down. Some jails that are overcrowed now are going to be grossly overcrowded and unsafe," said Joyce, who is head of the Maine Sheriff's Association. "We're probably going to run out of money."


Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason said that if the funding bill is not passed, his jail could be $1.5 million in the hole.


"I'll probably have to put in a hiring freeze," he said. "It's very difficult to get correction officers as it is and I'm understaffed now."


Joyce said the uncertainty over funding is concerning and that it is not clear it the matter will be addressed during a future special legislative session.


"I'm hearing that they may not come back at all -- and I'm hearing that jail funding isn't on anyone's radar screen," he said.


Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, said he hoped lawmakers were hearing from their local sheriff departments.


House Speaker Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said that if legislators fail to act, the state's taxpayers will pay the price.


"All across the state. They will see their property taxes literally increase," she said.


Leaders in Augusta say they plan to poll legislators in the coming weeks on when and if they may return but that there are no guarantees


"I hope that we are able to do that before July 1st," Gideon said. "If we are not, we will still be at it and trying to sort of make amends and make up for things."


Legislators say there is a enough work left on the table that a special session could last a few days. That could cost upwards of $40,000 a day.