Funding and space deficiencies are commonplace in the correctional industry. Jurisdictions across the United States deal with overcrowded conditions, which often leads to the absorption of programming space to accommodate inmate housing. The lack of programming space leads to a lack of inmate services and rehabilitation, which helps contribute to higher recidivism rates. It’s a downward spiral that hasn’t stopped for years in many communities.
However, some agencies — especially in small communities — are finding a solution to the problem by joining forces to build and operate regional jails. The facilities are popping up throughout the United States in areas where it is more cost-effective to cooperate than to stay the course alone.
One of the latest regional jails to open is the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Maine, a facility jointly operated by Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties. It’s the only regional jail north of Virginia on the East Coast, according to planners and officials, who opened the facility in November.
The plan to create a regional jail for Lincoln and Sagadahoc sprouted from difficult situations that both counties faced at about the same time.
Owner/Operator: Lincoln & Sagadahoc Multicounty Jail Authority
Owner Representative: The Gilco Corporation
Architect: SMRT Architects
Construction Manager: H.P. Cummings Construction Co.
“The library became a male housing unit,” says Wayne Applebee, jail administrator at Two Bridges Regional Jail. “The county jail did not have the ability to hold inmate programs or have an area for staff to be trained because all the space was being used to house as many inmates as the facility could hold.”
Additional inmates who could not be housed at the facility were housed for a fee in other counties that had bed space in their jails.
The housing scheme posed a problem for the judicial system because it was often difficult for defense attorneys to make long drives to see their clients.
“When inmates are away at another county jails they tend to not get through the court system as fast, so they spend more time in jail,” Applebee says.
“We have a program in Maine where if an inmate is put to work, every two days an inmate works he gets a day off his sentence,” Applebee says. “But, if you are the receiving sheriff of a boarding inmate, you have no incentive to give the inmate work because you want to collect the revenue.”
To make matters worse, the Maine Department of Corrections forced Sagadahoc County to end a 10-year contract to house inmates at the Kennebec County jail because the facility was overcrowded. The only other options for Sagadahoc County were significantly more expensive.
“After we were hired to do the needs assessment for Lincoln County, we were hired a few months later to do the needs assessment for Sagadahoc County,” says Curtiss Pulitzer, the firm’s program manager for the regional jail project. “That is when we basically made the recommendation to both counties to get together for a combined facility.”
However, there were several hurdles to bring the idea to fruition.
The firm convinced both jurisdictions by presenting information on the benefits of a regional jail and it also took officials on tours of existing regional jails.
“We took them to Virginia to see other regional facilities and they came back very convinced that the model worked,” Pulitzer says.
The benefits are multi-faceted, he says.
Staffing savings are achieved because positions are not duplicated by each county. There is only one jail administrator, maintenance manager, food-service coordinator, and so on.
“We were able to show that staff savings would help pay back the debt on the jail by combining resources,” Pulitzer says.
The combined resources of the counties also allowed for improved inmate programs. In addition to standard education, religious and drug dependency programs, the facility has a computer lab and officials are working on establishing a jail industries program that will provide life-skills opportunities for inmates while operating a small business at the jail.
Getting both counties to agree to the regional jail was just the first step of the process. In order to get funding for the project, a bond referendum that asked voters in each county to approve $12.3 million for the $24.6 million, 170-bed jail had to be passed.
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In November 2003, 55 percent of Lincoln County and 60 percent of Sagadahoc County voters approved the measure.
While the sheriffs and county commissions in the two counties, and rotary and church organizations pushed to gain support for the bond referendum, attorneys hired by the counties and a state legislator were busy drafting legislation that would allow for a regional jail in Maine, which had never before seen such an endeavor.
The legislation passed with little fanfare and the Sagadahoc and Lincoln Multicounty Jail Authority, which includes officials from both counties, was formed to oversee management of the facility.
But, one more step had to be taken. Since the Authority and the facility were entirely new, Pulitzer’s firm was tasked with creating the operational structure for the jail.
“We had to organize not only the design and construction effort, but we also had to create the staff positions that would run the facility,” Pulitzer says. “We had to create a whole infrastructure to run the operation.”
With construction completed on time and on budget with few hitches, the benefits of the regional jail should be apparent in coming months as the facility comes online.
“Even though it is not the biggest project we’ve ever done, it certainly has been one of the most rewarding,” Pulitzer says. “This is the first time we have helped create a whole new entity and a whole new authority, and basically become the board of directors for an agency.”
As an added bonus, Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties will eventually have the opportunity to completely reverse their former situations by housing inmates from other counties for a fee in jail space that was deliberately built to do so.
“Our budget allowed us a four-month period to work with our own county populations before we start accepting populations from other counties to make sure that our systems are running smoothly and our staff is handling our issues OK,” Applebee says.