Maine Faces Challenges Due to Prison Overcrowding
AUGUSTA, Maine — The amount of inmates in the Kennebec County Jail in Augusta has grown substantially in recent months. As a result, the jail has become more and more overcrowded, and officials have had to resort to setting up makeshift beds for inmates on the jail’s floor.
Despite crowding, the county does not wish to expand its jail facilities due to the high cost of construction, and is not receiving sufficient funding to do so from the county or state. This has led to a plea from the Kennebec County Sheriff’s office asking local police officers to make fewer arrests in the coming days, or even weeks, in order to ease crowding until they are able to find a long-term solution to the problem. In particular, the sheriff’s office has asked that local police not make any arrests for minor, non-violent crimes.
For the Augusta Police Department, the request is nothing new, as the jail is frequently over its rated capacity. The 147-bed jail has proven to be insufficient, and the lack of necessary funding is hindering its operations.
“We’re just trying to work smarter with the finite resources we have at the correctional facility,” Sheriff Randall Liberty told CentralMaine.com on April 4.
So far, thanks to these new tactics, the amount of inmates in the Kennebec County Jail has been reduced significantly. The sheriff estimated that bookings for misdemeanor offenses are down by roughly 25 percent, according to CentralMaine.com.
Even District Attorney Maeghan Maloney is backing Liberty’s plan, stating that sometimes she doesn’t understand why people are jailed for small or unsubstantial crimes. “Sometimes I look at a custody case and think, ‘Why was this person arrested?’” Maloney told CentralMaine.com.
Liberty’s tactics are not as much concerned with diminishing overall arrests, and the sheriff has stated he does not question police actions when it comes to making arrests. Instead, Liberty hopes to decrease arrests from a minor crime that then lead to unnecessary court and jail time. It still falls entirely on the local police to decide what kinds of criminals need to pay for their actions via jail time, and which do not.