Penobscot County is looking to buy land for new jail
By Marie Weidmayer, Bangor Daily News Staff
Penobscot County is taking a step forward in its controversial years-long effort to build a new jail by seeking to buy land for the project.
The county is looking for 15 to 20 acres for the new jail, County Administrator Scott Adkins said.
County officials say the Penobscot County Jail is in a bad state of disrepair, and it is not worth it to make repairs to the building, which was constructed in 1869. Despite repeated requests to visit the jail, the Bangor Daily News has not been inside the facility since June 2021.
Bangor city officials and City Councilor Susan Deane toured the jail in late January. A Bangor Daily News reporter was not allowed to join because it was not a public event, Sheriff Troy Morton said. Deane did not respond to a call requesting comment following the tour.
The last substantial renovations to the jail, at 85 Hammond Street, were in 1988, with a $5 million voter-approved bond. The facility is licensed by the Maine Department of Corrections to hold up to 157 inmates.
Opponents of the new jail say it will be bigger than the county needs and may lead to more people being incarcerated without improving public safety. They also say a new building is an improper use of tax money.
The county plans to fund the jail through voter-approved bonds, Adkins said. Having the land secured is key for the project to move forward because that allows the design to be finalized.
A price tag can be set after the land is purchased. There is no formal plan for what the building would look like, but there is a rough draft that can be tweaked to fit whatever shape the land is, Adkins said.
The new jail would be built around the idea of housing pods, with two stories of cells, where up to 50 people would be grouped together, Adkins said. Those housing pods would allow the jail to group people based on security levels, gender and other factors, making it safer for incarcerated people and corrections officers.
A new building would have more beds than needed to those groupings based on the needs of the incarcerated people. Officials have previously said it will likely have 250 beds.
About four potential properties have fallen through, in part because housing is — rightfully so, Adkins said — a priority that pushes a new correctional facility to the background.
A new jail does not have to be within the city of Bangor, but if the Penobscot County Commissioners decide to build outside of the county seat, the location and plans would have to be approved by voters, Adkins said.
Having the jail in Bangor has worked well over the years, in part because the majority of people who come into the jail are funneled through the city’s police department, he said. It’s more convenient to have in the city, which has water, sewer and other utilities already in place.
Adkins said he will keep reminding the county commissioners about the jail question.
“We need to address this at some point in the near future,” Adkins said. “Things are fine, things are stable and under control, and we’ll make every effort to keep it that way.”