By Abigail W. Adams
Chairman of the Lincoln and Sagadahoc Mulitcounty Jail Authority Mark Waltz (left) congratulates and thanks Levon Travis for his work as policy and training compliance officer, which helped Two Bridges Regional Jail achieve a near perfect score on its biannual Department of Corrections inspection. (Abigail Adams photo)
While the future of the county jail system hangs in the Legislature with sustained state funding in doubt, Two Bridges Regional Jail passed its biannual Maine Department of Corrections inspection with a near perfect score.
Levon Travis, the jail’s policy training and compliance officer, was recognized at the Lincoln and Sagadahoc Multicounty Jail Authority meeting May 13 for making those results possible.
Four full-time positions previously handled the responsibilities folded into Travis’ position, which involves ensuring the jail’s compliance with state, federal, and local standards and requirements. There are 265 standards Travis must track – 135 mandatory standards and 130 essential standards.
The standards encompass everything from human rights to the number of available showers, Correctional Administrator Col. Mark Westrum said.
Two Bridges Regional Jail received a 100 percent score from the Department of Corrections for mandatory standards and a 99.22 percent score for essential services, according to a Two Bridges Regional Jail press release. The only fault found was in the date log to the jail’s fully compliant first aid kits, Westrum said.
Westrum presented Travis with a colonel’s commendation award and a commendation letter in addition to a $200 bonus for his work, which played a direct role in the results of the inspection, Westrum said.
Two Bridges Regional Jail received the near perfect inspection score from the Department of Corrections as it braces itself for the outcome of L.D. 186, An Act to Reverse Jail Consolidation.
Two Bridges Regional Jail Administrator Col. Mark Westrum (left) presents Levon Travis with a Colonel’s commendation for his role in helping Two Bridges achieve a near perfect score on its Department of Correction’s biennial inspection. (Abigail Adams photo)
The legislation, introduced in response to the breakdown of the Board of Corrections, would transfer control of the county jail system to counties.
The legislation recently passed the Criminal Justice Committee with amendments, which would provide $14,688,000 to the Community Corrections Fund, lift the cap on property taxes that can be raised for county jails, and establish a maximum prisoner boarding rate of $108 per day.
The legislation is currently being redrafted and reviewed for fiscal impact before it is introduced to the Senate.
Gov. Paul LePage’s support for the bill, particularly the amount of state funding provided through the Community Corrections Fund, is in doubt. In a separate legislative proceeding, LePage submitted a series of amendments to his biennial budget, which included slashing funding for the Community Corrections Fund, according to a legislative bulletin from the Maine Municipal Association.
As of press time, funds made available through an emergency supplemental budget request for county jails for the current fiscal year, LD 236, signed into law on March 31, have yet to be distributed. The legislation called for $2,488,000 in emergency funds to be distributed to five county jails in the midst of an extreme budget shortfall.
Aroostook, York, Cumberland, Penobscot, and Androscoggin counties are currently experiencing budget deficits at their jails and are borrowing from their respective counties, in violation of the property tax cap, to maintain operations, jail authority members said.
The Department of Corrections designated Jonathan Labonte, the director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management, to distribute the funds. Labonte is currently reviewing financial information from county jails to determine how to distribute the supplemental funds, despite the information already having been provided in the legislative process that led to the passage of LD 236.
According to the legislative bulletin, Commissioner of the Department of Corrections Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick informed the appropriations committee Labonte was waiting on financial information from the Maine Sheriffs Association to determine how to distribute the funds.
Members of the appropriations committee questioned whether the financial information previously provided by the sheriffs association was accurate because no jails have shut down despite not yet receiving emergency supplemental funds.
The last possible day to distribute the supplemental funds is June 30, the last day of the 2014-2015 fiscal year, according to the legislation.
The outcome of the bills under consideration by the Legislature will determine the operations budget for Two Bridges in upcoming fiscal years, which is still unknown. The uncertainty has had an impact on staff retention at Two Bridges, with several recent graduates of correctional officer training leaving for employment with other law enforcement agencies.
According to Maine statute, Two Bridges can charge other law enforcement agencies for the training Two Bridges provides to staff that leave for career opportunities with other agencies, but never has. The jail authority voted unanimously to begin to charge other law enforcement agencies for the cost of correctional officer training.
The cost of training was estimated at approximately $10,000, but will be reviewed to determine the exact cost of the reimbursable training.
The jail authority is continuing negotiations with Waldo and Knox counties to determine if the two counties will become full members of the jail authority and share in debt services and capital improvement costs, or board their prisoners at Two Bridges at a negotiated boarding rate.
The jail authority plans to hold a special meeting Wednesday, May 27 to discuss the negotiations committee’s work with Knox and Waldo counties.