BANGOR, Maine — There’s a proposal in the works to build an entirely new Penobscot County Jail.
The price tag for taxpayers? $65 million.
The facility off of Hammond Street in downtown Bangor is structurally sound, but it’s currently over capacity, housing more than the 157 inmates it’s equipped to jail.
Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci said, on average, the jail houses 190 inmates.
"It's overcrowded and its been overcrowded for at least five or six years," said Baldacci.
Even more inmates facing charges in Penobscot County are being shipped to neighboring counties to be jailed, at a price of $800,000 a year.
"The cost of incarceration is significant," added Baldacci.
The proposed solution is to build a jail for 300 inmates and allow for enough room to house all of the inmates under one roof.
This new, freestanding jail would be built behind the current jail.
"It's too costly to build a 300 bed all-standing jail and walk away from our investment in the current jail," said Baldacci.
An alternative proposal to building an entirely new jail facility is to build an addition to the current facility with 150 beds.
State Representative Steve Stanley said he can get on board with the addition to the current jail.
"That will help them with the problem that they have and with their future needs down the road," said Stanley.
Officials with knowledge of both plans said this alternative would cost taxpayers $20-30 million dollars but may be equal in cost over time, given staffing and management costs.
Still, Baldacci said he’s leaning toward the proposal to build an addition because it lets taxpayers off the hook for the steep price, which would be paid out over the next 30 years.
Stanley said the issue of overcrowding isn't a new one for the Penobscot County Jail, and he and his colleagues are partially to blame.
"They've seen it coming for years," said Stanley. "We as a legislature are making a lot more laws that are putting people in jail."
Stanley said building an entirely new facility on the taxpayers' dime isn't the solution though.
"The solution for the $60-70 million dollar jail is a little bit far-fetched because you're talking a $4 million dollar increase in the county budget," said Stanley.
Penobscot County would quickly go from having no debt to decades of debt with the proposal to build a new jail.
"It comes out of the taxpayers' pocket," added Stanley.
"I do have concerns about 30 years of debt," said Baldacci.
Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton released a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine in which he said he does "support the building of a new correctional facility."
The statement went on to say, in part, "the inmates incarcerated today often pose many challenges. Mental health, substance abuse, violence, and medical issues are real challenges and impact housing. [...] While some changes in mental health and substance abuse may occur, there are still many laws being enacted and increased class of crimes implemented. The requirements being placed on correctional facilities require space to accomplish them."
Baldacci said the county commissioners will need to make a decision as to which direction they'll take on the issue next month if the proposal is to be put on the ballot in November as a bond issue.
It remains to be seen which solution, if any, the taxpayers in Penobscot County will support.
"When people are putting a bond issue for schools, for example, there's a natural constituency that's going to support better and more modern schools," said Baldacci. "There's not a natural constituency for a more modern jail. There are people who work to provide services in the jail who want to see us do something significant and have better facilities."