February 13, 2013

Franklin County seeks renewed classification of former jail

Deemed a holding center five years ago as a cost-saving move, it's proven more expensive than running as a jail, officials say

By Kaitlin Schroeder kschroeder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

FARMINGTON -- County officials and a state senator are making plans to convert the Franklin County Detention Center into a fully operating jail again.

click image to enlarge

Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton

Portland Press Herald file photo by John Patriquin

It's now a holding center for the Maine Department of Corrections that keeps detainees for up to 72 hours. If prisoners do not make bail by then, they are moved to the Somerset County Jail or another jail.

The change, passed five years ago by the Legislature, was supposed to lead to decreased operating costs and improved coordination between counties.

County officials, however, say the system costs the county money, mainly through transportation costs. While Franklin County's jail is down the road from the courthouse, Franklin prisoners in Somerset County need to be taken 30 miles to their court appearances in Farmington.

Commissioner Fred Hardy said the additional mileage alone is costly to the county, but the increased distance also means increased hours that officers need to be paid for transporting prisoners.

"It's very serious to Franklin County and its property-tax payers. We have a facility that's up-to-date and not being used," Hardy said.

Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, introduced a bill that would have the State Board of Corrections designate the jail in Franklin County as a jail for prisoners and not as a holding facility.

The county commissioners also submitted a letter to the Board of Corrections requesting the jail have its status restored. They are hoping to have their petition addressed at the next board meeting Feb. 19.

Franklin County jail administer Doug Blauvelt said the jail has submitted research on the added transportation costs to the board.

Hardy said the administration of former Gov. John Baldacci created corrections policy that burdened local governments with costs the administration should have been responsible for.

"The administration is always good at passing the costs along to the counties and the towns," he said.

During his election campaign, Sheriff Scott Nichols said the county would be better off running its own jail and he planned to work toward correcting its status.

He was out of town and unavailable for comment late last week.

Kaitlin Schroeder-- 861-9252

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