Penobscot County jail facing budget crisis

BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- It is the usual problem being voiced: too many inmates, not enough money, a backed up court system, and a staff already stretched thin. Penobscot County, however, might be at its breaking point facing a budget they said puts them well into the red before the fiscal year even begins.

"Every year our population has been increasing here at the Penobscot County jail. Our average population is 173, but we are only paid for 143," said Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said,

For the past seven years, county jails all over Maine have been struggling to budget enough money to stay afloat. Penobscot County is no different. Most counties depend on promised state funding to cover the costs. This plan stemming from the consolidation of the corrections system.

Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross said the state is not going to provide the money the jail needs. If officials move forward with the current budget, they are projecting a $350,000 deficit. Sheriff Ross said they have two decisions: move forward with the budget and hope the state covers the extra costs in January, or cut staff.

Sheriff Ross said they have placed most minimum security inmates in release programs to get them out of the jail.

"More importantly 86 percent of our population is made up of pre-trial inmates that are awaiting to go to court," said Ross.

Recently, Penobscot County housed nearly a dozen inmates facing murder charges or other capital crimes.The average murder charge takes a year to go to court.

"We keep absorbing all these extra costs and all we are asking for is to be funded. It is as simple at that," said Finance Director for Penobscot County Scott Adkins.

The Board of Corrections, which oversees county jails, is also facing budget problems. Earlier this year they received an additional $1.2 million in supplemental funding, but it was spread across the state. The board will go back to lawmakers to request money to cover the extra costs, but there will be no definite answer until January.

Until then, Penobscot County said it will have to make the difficult decision of proceeding with budget or cutting staff.


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