Underfunded and overpopulated are the words ringing through the Penobscot County Commissioner’s office and the jail.
“We’ve finally reached the cliff as we call it.. to where we can no longer do it,” says Scott Adkins, Finance Director for Penobscot County.
For the last three years the Penobscot County Jail has operated on flat funding from the State. For this budget year they’ll get nearly $300,000 less than last year and they’ve budgeted $150,000 less than last year. In 2008 the state promised to fund anything additional in the jail’s budget not covered by taxpayers.
“I’m asking the state to live up to that promise. Fund the jail for what it costs to run it,” says Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross.
By law the county must only spend what it has… and now it has a decision to make.
“Am I going to live within my budget or am I going to exceed my budget with the hopes that the state will reimburse after I’ve gone into the red,” Ross said.
The sheriff says the jail already operates on the least amount possible by putting inmates to work. But they can’t cut down their population.
“The bottom line is if you want bad people off the streets then you have I pay to have them stay in the jails,” says Ross.
Every day they’re over their allowed number.
“The Penobscot County Jail is rated by the department of corrections to hold 157 inmates, we’ve been averaging 173 for the last year our daily,” the sheriff explained.
Many days that number reaches 200.
“Unfortunately, business is good over at the jail,” says Adkins.
The jail’s central location keeps the beds full, but so does a back log at the court– 86% of the inmates are waiting for trial, and the large population has kept the jail from getting extra federal boarding revenue.
“We have to remain with higher levels of staffing just to keep the jail safe,” says Ross.
The problem isn’t just in Penobscot County, jails state-wide are overcrowded.
“This is going to be a terrible year for the jails a cross the state of Maine,” says Ross.
The next County Commissioner’s meeting is Tuesday, and they could decide then whether to keep on spending, or to cut back.
The county won’t know until the start of next year how much money they will get from the Board of Corrections.