AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Overcrowded jails with massive budget deficits have been an ongoing problem across the state. A bill before lawmakers on the Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday afternoon would send control of the jails back to the state.
Too many inmates, too few beds, and flat funding, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant says that's why his jail and many others are in a budget hole. But he says ceding control to the state is not the answer.
"We've proven in all 16 counties The sheriffs know how to manage jails," explained Gallant, who is also president of the Maine Sheriff's Association.
The Maine Municipal Association is worried that without state control county taxpayers will bear too much risk.
"It's a good idea because the property tax papers are funding 80% of the cost of jails currently," explained Kate Dufour, senior legislative advocate for the Maine Municipal Association.
Dufour says promises were made to the counties and the municipalities that the state in 2009 would start taking up more of the jail costs, thereby relieving property taxpayers but that since 2015 the promise has been broken and more costs are being shifted from the state to the municipalities. The bill before the legislature's criminal justice committee would shift control to the state and cap the amount of funding provided by counties to 65 million dollars with adjustments for inflation.
This isn't the first time that idea's been tried. Governor John Baldacci tried to do this in 2006. It didn't work then, and the fixes over the years have left all sides unhappy. Even the sponsor of this bill, Senator Bill Diamond isn't entirely convinced it's the right solution, but he feels that it's an issue that needs to be addressed.
"I frankly think this is a two-year project and it's our responsibility as a committee and is a legislature to get the conversation started this session I don't expect in the last two months we're going to come up with the silver bullet I don't think there is one...but we should get it started," Diamond said.
The counties are hoping this isn't a long drawn out process because they deal with enough uncertainty with inmate populations. They'd rather not have to deal with the uncertainty about who's going to be running the jails. The criminal justice and public safety committee is expected to vote on the bill at a work session next week.