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1. Jail expansion will waste our tax dollars without making us safer.


Jailing people is expensive, but it doesn't make us safer. The United States incarcerates vastly more of its population, by percentage, than any other country. In fact, there are now two million people in the nation’s prisons and jails—a 500% increase over the last 40 years.


There has been no crime wave to justify all this incarceration. Instead, this costly increase in incarceration is mainly due to changes in sentencing and the War on Drugs.

A county jail expansion will be paid for with our tax dollars, but it won't make us safer.


2. Jails can't fix substance use disorder, mental illness or poverty.

The majority of people who are jailed have a substance use disorder, are mentally ill, living in poverty, are unhoused and/or lack access to medical care. And people who are arrested multiple times are much more likely to have a serious mental illness, lack health insurance, and have an income under $10,000 per year. None of these things will be addressed by putting people in jail, leading to a revolving door of people who cycle in and out of jails for years or decades.

Jails aren't places where people can get good medical care or address mental health issues. In fact, they usually make mental and physical health worse. Penobscot County Jail has a history of taking people off mental health medications on which they have been stabilized, discontinuing Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorder, and ignoring medical emergencies.

As for poverty, incarcerated people frequently lose their jobs and homes while incarcerated. Money that goes to jails is money that can't be spent on creating affordable housing or "Housing First" programs that are proven to get people off the street and which more than pay for themselves


3. Bail reform would  immediately make a bigger jail unnecessary.

How much money someone has should never determine how much time they spend in jail.


Bail was never meant to keep people (presumed innocent) in jail for months awaiting their day in court, but that's the case for over 70% of people incarcerated at Penobscot County Jail and other jails around the country.


The District Attorney's Office has the power to lower or eliminate bails in many cases, which would immediately bring Penobscot County Jail's population down to its legal capacity.


4. Diversion, alternative sentencing and restorative justice can keep people out of jail.

When someone has done harm or is suffering from a substance use disorder, there are many options besides jail.

Many cities and counties use alternative approaches which are based in evidence and keep people in the community. Diversion programs offer options for people with mental health disorders, substance use disorders, or both to avoid arrest or jail time through placement in a treatment program. This approach can include crisis intervention teams, detox sites, addiction treatment and crisis stabilization units.

Restorative justice works with people who have done harm to take responsibility and make amends. Both adult and youth restorative justice programs can work in partnership with counties to divert people from jail.

The District Attorney's office can further reduce the inmate count by increasing its use of alternatives to incarceration. Alternative sentencing includes a spectrum of monitoring, community service and home confinement approaches.


5. Racially marginalized people are more likely to be jailed.

Nationally, despite making up only 13% of the general population, Black men and women account for 21% of people who were arrested once and 28% of people arrested multiple times in 2017.


In Penobscot County, approximately 10% of those jailed on any given day are Black, while only 1% of Penobscot County identifies as Black. Penobscot County Jail's population is 3% Native, while Penobscot County as a whole is 1.2% Native. 


6. 'If you build it, they will come': More jail beds can lead to more people in jail.

With limited space in the Penobscot County Jail, there has been steady pressure to keep people out of jail and in community-based programs. The need to address overcrowding has led to increased use of pre-trial services and a strong pressure to avoid unnecessary arrests. These changes, though small, are a step in the right direction. 

With a new, bigger jail, there will be less incentive to jail fewer people. The proposed jail has room to expand to 360 people, which is more than double the jail's current capacity. This also raises concerns that an expanded jail could be used in the future to house other types of detainees, such as undocumented people.

7. Penobscot County is getting older, safer, and less populated.

Maine is the safest U.S. state. Maine has the lowest number of assaults per capita of any state in the U.S. and the lowest violent crime rate. Arrests in Maine decreased 30% between 2007 and 2017. Criminal cases fell by 10% statewide from 2014 to 2018. Most jails in Maine have empty cells.

The population of Penobscot County is growing smaller and older, and Maine’s population is flat. There are more deaths than births in our state. So why should we be paying to jail an ever-increasing number of people?

There is no violent crime epidemic, only an epidemic of poverty, substance use disorder, and mental illness - none of which can be fixed by jails.

Our small, aging, and mostly rural population does need investment - but not in the form of a new jail.


8. Less expensive options exist- we should be using them first.

Many helpful changes are occurring in Penobscot County. Sober living homes, re-entry services, and recovery programs are growing and adding programming. Eastern Maine Development Corporation (EMDC) is expanding its workforce development initiatives to serve more individuals re-entering from incarceration. These efforts and more will reduce recidivism, and with more funding, these organizations could do even more.

Additionally, many people held in the jail- as many as 70%- are held pre-trial. Experts are well-aware of the need to reduce the number of people in pretrial status across the state, and efforts are underway to do so. The statewide Task Force on Pretrial Justice Reform has been re-established. Before asking Penobscot County taxpayers for tens of millions to more than double the size of a jail, the county has an obligation to explore all less expensive options and evaluate the impact of future justice reforms and social service expansions on our jail population.

9. A bigger jail could mean higher costs-permanently.

An expanded jail also means higher yearly costs and environmental impacts.

No matter what the sticker cost of a new jail expansion is, any expansion will mean higher ongoing costs that taxpayers must bear. With costs of everything increasing, the full economic impact of a jail expansion in the years to come is difficult to judge. However, it is certain that a larger building will require more fuel, water, and electricity to run and occupy a larger footprint.


10. Jail increases the risk of serious chronic illness and death.

Post-release opioid-related overdose mortality is the leading cause of death among people released from jails or prisons. Being released from jail places people with substance use disorder at high risk of overdose due to loss of tolerance. While beginning a new substance use disorder treatment program decreases this risk, Penobscot County Jail does not offer this option. 

Recent data also shows a strong association between jail incarceration and death rates from infectious diseases, chronic lower respiratory disease, drug use, and suicide.

Roughly 1,200 people died in a U.S. jail in 2019 (the most recent year of totals, and notably, pre-COVID). Deaths have been on the rise since 2010. The vast majority of deaths (77%) occurred among people who were in pre-trial status (not convicted of any crime). Almost 40% of all deaths occurred during the first week of incarceration.



Looking for more information on Penobscot County Jail? Check out our Fact Sheet.


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