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Sheriff working to revive Oxford County Jail
PARIS -- Two and a half years after the Oxford County Jail became a 72-hour holding facility, Sheriff Wayne Gallant is still working on ways to make it a jail again.
On Dec. 13, he announced two possible ways: housing women prisoners in unused cell blocks; and getting special beds for inmates waiting for mental health evaluations.
On July 1, 2009, the jail was one of three in Maine that was downgraded to a holding facility for recently-arrested prisoners or prisoners set to appear in court. Prisoners who don't bail are transported, usually to the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn. It ties up officers' time while blocks of the jail go unused, Gallant said.
The sheriff said he has proposed getting forensic beds for the jail and holding sentenced women in the two blocks that aren't used now.
Gallant said women must get their own cell blocks, and their relatively low numbers in the correctional system means they tie up entire blocks, often leaving several rooms empty.
“I'm always looking for ways that we can make the system work better and utilize the jail that we have here,” Gallant said. “Our jail is in darn good shape. We have no debt on our jail, like some of the other jails, so it's not a burden to the system.”
He said he recently submitted the idea to the state Board of Corrections.
The two unused blocks each have six cells. Gallant said the jail could hold 10 to 12 women prisoners, although having 10 would allow for holding recently-arrested female suspects. The jail would need four additional guards, one for each shift, to staff the women's blocks. Gallant said it would put more jobs in Oxford County.
Gallant is also looking into getting forensic beds, which are necessary for people with mental health issues who are in custody but can't be kept in a jail cell due to suicide concerns. Because they must be mentally evaluated, arresting officers sometimes have to wait hours or even through entire weekends guarding suspects at hospitals while waiting for a mental evaluation.
Forensic beds would allow the county to hold suspects with mental health issues in the jail rather than driving them to regional hospitals to wait for an evaluation.
“I thought it would be a way to not only help us in Oxford County, help us employmentwise, but also help out the entire unified system,” he said.
In 2009, the Board of Corrections set three jails to holding-facility status to cut costs. The Oxford County Jail lost several employees, including the kitchen staff. Prisoners' meals are now catered by local restaurants.
Gallant said he has submitted his plan to the Board of Corrections.