Kennebec County has expanded its contract with Two Bridges Regional Jail, and will pay an increased fee to send 10 additional inmates to the jail. The Lincoln and Sagadahoc Multicounty Jail Authority approved an amended contract with Kennebec County at its Wednesday, Sept. 14 meeting.
The authority voted unanimously to allow Two Bridges Regional Jail to take up to 20 male inmates from Kennebec County from Sept. 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 for a fee of $395,385. The authority had previously authorized a 10-month, two-week contract to house up to 10 Kennebec County inmates for $204,000 in a special meeting Aug. 18.
Almost as soon as the contract was finalized, Kennebec County asked Two Bridges to take additional inmates at a revised cost, said Col. Mark Westrum, correctional administrator of Two Bridges Regional Jail. The authority’s executive committee renegotiated the contract.
Westrum has said the request from Kennebec County to enter into a contract with Two Bridges Regional Jail was a surprise.
According to Westrum, the Kennebec County Jail is undergoing renovations to add a pod for 22 inmates, and has asked Two Bridges to house some inmates until the renovations are complete and the new pod is open.
Kennebec County Jail is one of the county jails that has experienced overcrowding since the dissolution of the Maine Board of Corrections, Westrum said. While the contract is short-term, the additional beds may not be enough to alleviate the overcrowding at the jail, he said.
The law currently governing Maine’s county corrections system, which was enacted after the Board of Corrections was disbanded, significantly reduced state funding for county corrections.
The law prohibits county jails from charging per-day boarding rates, yet uses a funding formula that distributes state funds to the county where an inmate originates, not the jail that houses them.
Two Bridges Regional Jail has adopted a policy of entering into contracts with outside counties to house their inmates and raise revenue without violating the law.
The law also maintains a cap on property taxes to fund corrections, but allows counties to raise the cap by 3 percent a year.
Authority board members have said the cap has limited the ability of some counties to enter into contracts with other counties to house inmates. Authority members asked how Kennebec County was able to increase the amount of the contract.
According to Westrum, Kennebec County was successful in raising its cap by 3 percent.
Two Bridges Regional Jail now holds contracts with three counties – Kennebec, Oxford, and Waldo. The jail’s inmate count was 173 as of Sept. 14, a spike from its inmate population in May of 114, when the population was primarily composed of Lincoln, Sagadahoc, and Waldo counties, in addition to federal and state inmates.
The contracts are a short-term solution, Westrum said. “If my life depends on it, before I retire,” Westrum said, he would like to see the jail authority transform into a four-county consortium of Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, and Waldo counties.
The four counties would be able to run Two Bridges Regional Jail with their existing caps, the jail has the space to accommodate the counties’ inmate populations, and the counties would no longer be at the mercy of the state, Westrum said.