WISCASSET – Sheriffs and jail administrators from Aroostook to York counties got a peek Friday at the soon-to-open Two Bridges Regional Jail, which will have extra bed space for boarding prisoners from other counties.
With jail crowding plaguing many communities, the $24.6 million Wiscasset facility provides counties with housing alternatives.
“It kind of makes one envious,” Knox County Sheriff Daniel Davey said during the tour of the 91,000-square-foot state-of-the-art jail. “It smells new.
“The thing is, who can be proud of jails?” he said. “But they’re a necessary evil.”
Two Bridges, funded jointly by Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties, is expected to open in mid-November with 50 prisoners to start.
Eventually, an average 110 inmates from those counties is anticipated. The rest of the beds likely will be up for grabs by those counties needing them.
The 170-bed facility has infrastructure designed to easily expand to 285 beds, Col. Wayne Applebee, Two Bridges correctional administrator, said Friday.
It also has a first in Maine jail industries program, an ultramodern staff fitness center and a medical facility, complete with doctor and dentist offices.
When it comes to crowding, Knox County has a jail bulging at the seams. Right now, the 20-year-old facility is under review by consultants and a jail study committee to figure out the best ways to address its space needs.
In the meantime, Knox County is paying about $100 per day plus transportation to board its inmates elsewhere and expects to spend perhaps $600,000 this year in boarding costs. The 55-bed jail had 95 prisoners in March.
On Friday, Davey, Chief Deputy Todd Butler and County Administrator William Post toured the facility for more than its boarding potential. The jail study committee has mentioned the possibility of teaming up with Lincoln and Sagadahoc in adding a wing there for Knox County prisoners.
Should the concept materialize, Knox County Jail could be used for special prisoner populations, such as women prisoners only or for inmates with medical needs, including mental illnesses or addictions.
With Waldo County Jail also facing facility needs, the Knox committee has suggested joint talks with officials there.
Two Bridges is the first regional jail north of Virginia, according to Applebee, and the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 27, will cap more than six years of planning and construction. Public tours are 2 to 5 p.m. Friday and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27-28.
Two Bridges, located off Route 1 on a 76-acre parcel, is a standout among Maine jails with the latest technology and design. The facility and entrance road cover 18 acres.
Inmates are housed in 54-bed pods or units, much like those at Maine State Prison, with direct supervision management limiting the amount of staff needed.
The jail also has video arraignment capability, which reduces the number of prisoner transports to courts.
Prisoners’ movement throughout the jail will be monitored by an offender management system that tracks where they are in the facility, which also is a first in Maine.
In the control room, the security system keeps tabs on scores of doors and cameras. If a door remains open for so many seconds, computers in the control center signal breaking glass, which happened often Friday with contractors still moving about.
“We’re shaking down the building Tuesday [Oct. 24],” Applebee said.
For the first time in Maine, Two Bridges also is breaking new ground with a jail industries program, program supervisor Naomi Bonang said, adding, “I have grand ideas.”
Besides teaching inmates job and life skills for their release, Bonang will have them working on various projects from envelope stuffing and product packaging to building trusses or welding.
The plan includes hooking up with local businesses to contract work and to hire released prisoners, which can gain employers certain tax breaks.
“It will be a challenge,” she said, “because sentences vary. [We’re] trying to modify what the state prisons are doing.”
The public will have a rare opportunity to be booked into jail and to spend the night in a cell. A “Spend the Night in Jail” ticket for $25 per person buys dinner, music and games as part of the overnight plan at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28. Proceeds benefit Camp POSTCARD, a statewide mentoring program for fifth- and sixth-graders. The night is sponsored by the jail. For reservations or more information, call Anne-Marie Griffin at 882-2607.