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Maine Corrections Commissioner Defends Proposed County Jail Closures

Maine Corrections Commissioner Joe Fitzpatrick is defending his department’s proposal to close 5 county jails and regionalize oversight — a plan that is drawing fire from county sheriffs and some lawmakers.

Fitzpatrick says the report and recommendations are in response to state budget directives to develop a plan to make the county jails more efficient. He argues his plan will save millions of dollars a year by establishing the Maine Jail Commission, which would have oversight over county jail budgets, create three regional jail authorities to improve cooperation among the county jails and create new efficiencies through central contracting for goods and services used by the jails.

He rejects the argument by some sheriffs that the cost of transporting prisoners to a regional jail would be more than the current system, which already relies on transporting inmates from one jail to another.

“Consolidation, regionalization speaks to efficiencies that could equate to $9 million, $10 million in savings. That really outweighs the cost of some extra transport miles,” he says.

In an interview with Maine Public Radio, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce, the president of the Maine Sheriff’s Association, argued the sheriffs are already doing a good job cooperating in several areas to keep costs down, and that the plan won’t accomplish its goal of achieving savings.

Fitzpatrick says it’s clear that more can be done.

“If they were cooperating with each other and working together as Sheriff Joyce suggests, I would expect that you wouldn’t have people who are sleeping — offenders on the floor — and have nowhere to put them,” he says.

And Fitzpatrick says the sheriffs and county officials knew he was developing a plan because he was mandated to do so in the state budget. He says he invited them to a meeting at the department in December to suggest ways to improve the efficiency of the county jails.

“Person after person got up and gave a little bit of a speech on why they just needed more money when they knew the governor wouldn’t support just handing them more money and leaving the systems being the way they are,” he says.

Fitzpatrick says the report is simply made up of recommendations to the Criminal Justice and Appropriations Committees, as required by law. He does not expect the department or the governor will be submitting legislation to implement the report. He says it’s up to legislators to decide if the recommendations are worth pursuing.

This story was originally published Jan. 6, 2018 at 5:12 p.m. ET.