Staffing shortages at Cumberland County Jail lead federal authorities to return prisoners

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce inside the Cumberland County Jail Medical Unit in February said ‘U.S. Marshals have decided to move their inmates out of the Cumberland County Jail due to staffing levels and some scheduling issues.” He said the withdrawal of federal inmates, which is costing the prison $5,600 a day in lost revenue, is temporary. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

The US Marshals Service has removed federal prisoners from Cumberland County Jail because the facility is understaffed, the sheriff said this week, the latest repercussion of a years-long staffing crisis at the jail.

The shortage of prison officers has also forced the prison to stop accepting new arrestees except those charged with violent crimes, including domestic violence, a union official said.

“Cumberland County was unable to provide everything the federal government wanted, and for this reason they decided to withdraw their inmates and send them to other facilities,” said Daren Smithbusiness agent for the National Correctional Employees Union, which represents most prison workers.

The jail now has 87 vacancies out of 185 authorized positions, not including employees on temporary leave, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said Tuesday. The remaining hundred officers are forced to work up to three overtime each week, a limit recently negotiated by the union, Smith said.

The long-term staffing crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic and is part of the broader upheaval in labor markets taking place across the country.

Smith, a former correctional officer, said people just aren’t applying to work in jails and jails, despite the county’s efforts to attract new applicants. The starting hourly wage is about $23 to $24, he said, with a maximum of three forced overtime hours per week.

“It’s unfortunately not unique to Cumberland County,” Smith said. “Corrections as a whole, nationally and statewide, these facilities are all understaffed and, in my opinion, they are all underpaid.”

Local US Marshals Service personnel did not respond to questions last week or Tuesday about the decision to return federal prisoners, and there was no immediate response from separate inquiries from US Marshals headquarters in Virginia. Joyce did not specify how many federal inmates were incarcerated at Portland Jail prior to their transfer.

A 2010 contract between the marshals and the county — the only detention agreement with the jail listed on the federal website — suggests the deal, if it hasn’t changed since, reserves about 100 beds, mostly for male prisoners. The prison has nearly 600 beds, but is not operating at full capacity.

The federal inmate contract is worth about $2.65 million in boarding school revenue, which equates to more than 12% of the prison’s $21.5 million revenue forecast for fiscal year 2021-22, according to the budget documents.

In the last fiscal year, actual revenue from the federal contract was expected to be $3.2 million, according to county records. Revenue depends on the number of federal inmates and the length of their detention.

Joyce said last week that her agency was not notified in writing, but was told in a phone call that the federal government was releasing inmates. It’s unclear when the federal inmates might return, but Joyce said their departure was temporary.

On Tuesday, Joyce said the marshals conducted an annual audit and last month sent her office a memo with a corrective action plan, which included a memo on staffing levels, but it was unclear whether the findings of the audit triggered the decision to remove the detainees. out. Joyce said the corrective plan was received in August and the phone call informing him of the decision to return the federal prisoners took place on August 22 or 23.

The sheriff said the move is costing the jail about $5,600 in lost revenue each day. As of Tuesday, 12 federal inmates remained in Portland. It was unclear when they would be moved, or where the detainees who were returned were taken.

“There has been no official communication that the federal inmate’s contract is terminated,” Joyce wrote in an email. “US Marshals have decided to move their inmates out of the Cumberland County Jail due to staffing levels and some programming issues they would like their inmates to have access to, which we currently cannot accommodate, yet. once, because of the staff. We are in constant communication with the U.S. Marshals and keep them updated on these evolving concerns.

Joyce did not respond to questions about what level of staffing must be achieved or what programs or services must be restored before federal inmates can be allowed back.

The prison has struggled to attract staff for years, so it’s unclear what may have triggered the decision. Last fall, the county declared an emergency at the jail and the sheriff restricted the admission of new prisoners during an outbreak of COVID-19 among residents and staff.

In addition to personnel issues, three inmates died at the prison and a fourth succumbed to self-inflicted injuries he sustained while locked up. The first death was in May, when an unidentified man was hospitalized following a suicide attempt and died days later.

In June, 32-year-old Billy Tucker died of a suspected suicide. On July 6, Kevin Whitford, 65, of Sanford, was found unconscious in his cell. And on August 14, an unidentified male prisoner was found unconscious in a cell.

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