Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee

Brackett, Merry outline plan for jail funding

Fri, 11/08/2019 - 8:15am

Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett and Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry spoke to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety joint standing committee Nov. 5 about the Sheriffs’ Association’s suggestion for how to level funding for the state’s county jail system.

The draft legislation is LD 973, An Act to Stabilize Maine’s County and Regional Jails – the County Corrections Act of 2019.

Brackett testified, the county and regional jails have held the line on spending. He provided a spreadsheet to show how each jail had saved, but sentencing guidelines have changed, leaving more people in the county and regional systems that would have gone to the state prisons. “There are various good reasons for that,” he said. “The inmates are closer to home, they can be near their families, they have access to programs that they might need. We don’t want to discourage this type of sentencing guidelines, we just need help paying for what would have been state prisoners a couple of years ago.”

Brackett said LD 973 would create a new class of inmate called a state sanctioned inmate, prisoners who would have been sentenced to state prison, but might fall into one of several categories. One is when an inmate receives consecutive sentences at the county jail, rather than two to three years in state prison. Murder and Class A, B and C crimes where the inmate is kept at the county jail level after adjudication would also be state sanctioned inmates. Probation violation and failure to pay fines in lieu of incarceration that are related to a state sanctioned inmate would also be covered, as would the need to keep an inmate local to comply with a court order, such as obtaining mental health, contempt of court, crimes against a state agency, or violation of an order imposed by a state agency, such as failure to pay child support, or the commission of insurance or medical fraud, and tax evasion.

“These are essentially crimes against the state,” Brackett said.

Counties would still be responsible for those convicted of lesser crimes, and would be responsible for inmates in the community corrections programs.

Every year, each jail would provide an accounting of how many inmates were state sanctioned after fiscal year 2020. The state would pay the jails $50 per night, per inmate, or 20 percent of the total expenditures of the jail, whichever is greater, according to the draft legislation. The state would also reimburse the counties for the inmates’ medical and mental health costs.

Counties would fund jails as they currently do, except that the LD 1 cap on property taxes to fund the jails would be slightly more flexible.

The draft bill also outlines best practices for county corrections, including inmate transportation coordination with other sheriffs and jails in the state; substance use and addiction recovery treatment programs; medication assisted treatment programs; mental health treatment, and community programs such as pre-trial services, alternative sentencing or housing programs, and electronic monitoring.

House Chair Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell) asked to what extent the legislature should work toward further coordination between the county jails and the Department of Corrections. “That is, how should the state move to force that to happen?”

Merry said the best option is a local council of jails and sheriff’s offices that work together to solve coordination issues with the DOC. “Two Bridges Regional Jail is unique, in that two counties are working together all the time,” he said. “But rather than laws, I think many other things can be done with memoranda of understanding between the counties and the DOC. The state just has to look at this differently, and share responsibility for how these inmates are funded.”

The sheriffs meet with the committee again Nov. 19.