AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s county sheriffs joined forces in Augusta Monday to ask the Legislature to provide more funding for county jails.
For the past ten years since the passage of Gov. John Baldacci’s jail consolidation bill in 2008, there has been a continuing argument between sheriffs, lawmakers, and governors over how much the state should pay to support the jails.
Most of the money to pay for county jails comes from local property taxes. But state law puts a cap on how much can come from local taxes. The counties have regularly battled with the state over how much it will pay. That is why the sheriffs presented a plan to legislators that would create a new formula to determine the state share for jails.
The formula would be based on the number of inmates considered to be a state responsibility. The plan lists a number of crimes and situations that would make an inmate the state’s responsibility.
"We’re asking the state to recognize they, too, have a role and to come up with an appropriate way to fund those jails moving forward," said Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett, a primary author of the plan.
The Mills administration, however, is opposing the plan, saying it would be too expensive.
Deputy Corrections Commissioner Dr. Ryan Thornell said the list of crimes that would qualify a prisoner as a state inmate is far too broad.
"The solution to the county jails is not more state money. That solution has been tried and tested for more than a decade, with the cost of state funding continually increasing," Thornell said.
The money involved is significant.
Sheriff Brackett says the total operating budget for all of the county jails is about $89 million. The current state share of that cost is roughly $18.4 million, and Governor Mills has proposed a similar amount for the next fiscal year, which starts in July. The jails also receive some federal funding, according to Brackett.
The Sheriffs and the bill sponsor admitted to Legislators the plan represents a major change, but asked if it is too much for the Criminal Justice Committee to handle this year, that it be carried over with a study group and brought up next year.