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MAINE BEACON - Advocates are pushing back against an effort by Penobscot County to increase capacity of its Bangor-based jail, saying the expansion effort is misguided and urging the county to instead focus on reducing the number of people it incarcerates.


Peter Baldacci, a commissioner for Penobscot County, said the county is currently seeking proposals from architectural firms for the jail expansion project, with the deadline for the firms to submit plans set for Dec. 17. According to a request for proposals document from Nov. 15, the initiative is meant to “accommodate an average daily inmate population of at least 260, with the ability to expand to a daily population of 360” — a plan that was reiterated at a Dec. 3 meeting between county officials and potential architectural and construction firms. The jail is currently licensed for 157 incarcerated people.


The project — which comes after the county initially considered building a new jail before settling on the expansion plan — would also entail renovations to create a new intake area, a larger medical unit, and room for additional rehabilitative programming.

Baldacci said the initiative is a response to frequent overcrowding at the jail, with the facility often exceeding the number of incarcerated people it is licensed for. That situation has prompted the state to threaten to pull the facility’s license.


The county has attempted to deal with that problem in part by sending people to other facilities, but those plans have been hampered by a COVID-19 outbreak in the facility, which faced complaints earlier this year from inmates about its virus protocols, among other issues. Throughout the pandemic, prisons and jails have been hotbeds of virus cases.


Group pushes back on jail expansion


Baldacci said the jail is consistently responsible for about 230 to 240 people on average, with around 180 usually incarcerated in the facility and the rest sent to different correctional centers. However, Baldacci said the practice of boarding people out to other facilities should be avoided if possible, as transporting them back and forth creates a challenge to resolving their cases in a timely manner.


Ultimately, Baldacci said he wants to see incarceration in the county reduced. But with the current overcrowding problem, people aren’t getting services they need, he said. Moving forward with the project would allow for the county to handle 230 to 240 people and keep those arrested in-county, he argued, rather than sending them elsewhere.

“The only way to reduce the boarding and have a facility that’s safer and able to provide more services is by expanding the jail,” he said.


However, those against the project, such as the group No Penobscot County Jail Expansion, argue that the best solution to the overcrowding issue is to arrest and imprison fewer people rather than increase carceral capacity.


That’s particularly true because many of the people in the jail are imprisoned for minor violations, said Julia Norman, a member of No Penobscot County Jail Expansion.

“It just turns out that a large number of people in that jail are there for nonviolent offenses, not the least of which is substance use,” said Norman, who analyzed public data for those at the jail on Dec. 3 and found that more than half the charges were related to probation, bail or substance use issues. Norman has done additional analyses at other points in time and found similar results.


In addition, Baldacci said about 70% of people in Penobscot County Jail on average are there pre-trial, meaning they have not been convicted of any crime and are legally innocent.


No Penobscot County Jail Expansion is urging the county to pursue an alternative path of reducing the jail population, arguing in a plan submitted to officials that incarceration is harmful to people’s lives, has little impact on crime levels, and punishes many people who are suffering from mental health and/or substance use issues. Furthermore, the group stated that communities become less safe as a result of incarceration, as jail “encourages a culture of criminality.”


As a result, the organization said Penobscot County should focus on reducing its jail population by 75 to 100 people or more. The county could achieve that goal by reforming or eliminating bail, which disproportionately impacts low-income people, for certain offenses, the advocates stated. The group also argued that the county should increase the use of diversion programs in response to minor crimes and initial offenses, reduce sentences for probation or bail violations, coordinate more effectively with reentry services, make fewer arrests in the first place, expand services for mental health and substance use disorder treatment, and reduce the length of sentences for those convicted, among other policies.


For many of those policies, the county could use funds coming from the American Rescue Plan Act, No Penobscot County Jail Expansion said. Penobscot County is receiving nearly $30 million in ARPA money, with the city of Bangor and other municipalities in the county getting additional allocations.


Instead, Penobscot County officials have floated using some ARPA funding to help pay for the jail expansion. Baldacci confirmed that using a portion of ARPA money on the project is still a part of the county’s plan.


Continue reading at Maine Beacon

Penobscot County has put out a request for proposals for project management to expand the Penobscot County Jail. This expansion, as described in the RFP, would add 203 beds rather than the original 100 discussed in the media.


The winning contractor will "perform construction management services for the Penobscot County Facility Renovation Project from the design development phase through completion of the project."The winner is expected to enter into contract with the county on February 1, 2022.


You can view the Request for Proposals here:

https://www.penobscot-county.net/single-post/rfp-penobscot-county-facility-renovation


BANGOR DAILY NEWS - Penobscot County is asking architectural firms for proposals to add about 100 beds to its existing jail on Hammond Street in Bangor, marking the county’s latest attempt to ease overcrowding at the 161-year-old facility that regularly exceeds its licensed capacity of 157 inmates.


After deliberating for years on alleviating overcrowding and proposing to build an entirely new jail before putting that plan on hold, county commissioners said Tuesday that their latest course of action will be to add onto the existing Penobscot County Jail.


The county would pay for the bulk of construction through borrowing, though it will look into using a portion of its $30 million in federal American Rescue Plan money to pay a portion of the costs, said Peter Baldacci, chair of the county commission.


In addition to 100 more beds, the expanded facility would include a new and safer intake area, an expanded medical unit so inmates may be cared for in the facility rather than admitted to local hospitals when ill and new space that would allow for more programming.

The annex behind the Historic County Courthouse where most county government offices are located would be torn down to make room for the proposed addition.

The former YMCA building up Hammond Street that the county has eyed as the location for a new jail would be partially renovated to house offices now in the jail. The section that housed the swimming pool and the racquetball courts would be demolished.


“The addition to the jail would be a priority over the Y work,” Baldacci said Tuesday. “We need to have capacity for 250 inmates. That’s what we consistently have in-house and boarded out.”

The county is looking into using the federal recovery money to pay for construction that addresses safety, such as the expanded medical unit and intake area, Baldacci said. He also said commissioners want to set aside some recovery funds for substance use treatment and preventive programs, something that members of the public have urged them to do.


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