ALFRED, Maine - The York County Jail wants to temporarily shut down one of its prisoner housing areas because it doesn't have enough corrections officers to safely staff the facility. Sheriff Maurice Ouellette told the state Board of Corrections today that the recent indictment of four current and three former corrections officers for allegedly smuggling contraband to prisoners has left him woefully understaffed.
One of the first things a visitor to the York County Sheriff's Department's website will see is a large banner advertising the agency's need to hire a "few good men and women."
But ever since last week's indictment of seven former and current corrections officers at the York County Jail, Sheriff Maurice Ouellette has been forced to admit that he actually needs more than a few. The corrections officers were charged with smuggling a variety of items to prisoners, ranging from drugs to cellphones.
Now, with the jail's staff severely depleted, Ouellette wants the state Corrections Board to approve a temporary closing of one pod at the jail that houses 32 prisoners, "just to be able to close the pod to get over this temporary situation and place some people at other facilities so that we're able to do that," Ouellette said.
The board members told Ouellette that they understand the unusual situation the York County Jail is facing, but they reminded him that most of Maine's county jails have difficulty attracting and retaining corrections officers.
The temporary relocation of up to 32 prisoners would also increase the stress level at county jails that are asked to absorb York County's prisoners. And that's a situation that the board's Executive Director Ryan Thornell and board Vice-Chair Amy Fowler would prefer to avoid.
"Maybe if Ryan and some other folks that are interested that could come in and maybe find some creative idea that we haven't come up with before we start moving these guys," Fowler said. "Because my fear is the next crisis is going to be another county, whether it's Penobscot or Somerset, or whatever."
The board opted to meet next week to see if an alternative to closing the jail pod can be found. In the meantime, Ouellette says he will be conducting interviews with several potential new corrections officers.