Jail Over-Crowding Part 1
With deep cuts to mental health services, some mainers have no place to go. Many wind up in jail.That creates a new set of problems.The Washington County Jail in Machias is equipped to hold 42 inmates, but Sheriff Donnie Smith says their capacity is rarely under fifty.When we visited the jail, they started with 53 inmates, before we left, someone else had been booked.”When you’re up around 35 you’re already over-crowded because you’ve taken away the availability of moving inmates. Where we house both minimum, medium and maximum and plus the female population, it really handicaps you if you have a situation where inmates don’t get along to try and move them around,” said Washington County Sheriff, Donnie Smith.This overcrowding forces them to add cots to already full cells and sometimes place them in hallways.Smith says there are a variety of reasons for the high capacity, but one in particular he sees often.”Anytime we see cuts in mental health funding, we see a spike in jail population. People who don’t receive the appropriate care on the outside will turn to self-medicating or commit crime to medicate,” said Smith.Smith says they don’t have a lot of funding for mental health counseling within the jail.”What little help they may get while they’re on the inside, can be very short-lived if you can’t continue that when they leave the facility and that just isn’t there either. Next thing you know, they’re back in jail again,” said Smith.These inmates are referred to as frequent fliers.”Rarely does someone not come in that the correction officers there are not on a first name basis with them,” said Smith.He says as a keeper of the jail, it’s not their job to punish the inmates, that’s up to the courts.It is their job to keep the inmates safe, but he says when dealing with mental health issues, they are faced with challenges.”So many people drop through the cracks. They just go back out into the same situation that they left without the resources to tap into,” said Smith.Smith understands there’s no easy fix and the state is dealing with financial hardships. But he also says his jail and others in the state can’t continue to house more inmates than they have room for.”Until we have a real serious discussion about what’s going on and where we need to move, to me it would be much more inexpensive to look to be proactive then reactive and to look at the situation before they’re incarcerated,” said Smith.