Seven years ago, the state was facing a crisis in its county jails. Fifteen jails with 15 different administrations were operating in a state with a smaller population than a mid-size county in other parts of the country.

Some jails were empty, some overcrowded. All were trying to deliver services such as mental health and substance abuse treatment that were never envisioned by our Puritan ancestors.

That was then, this is now: After a five-year experiment with a State Board of Corrections overseeing the county lockups, Maine appears ready to return to the old way of doing business. That means a return to 15 jails with 15 administrations inefficiently managing an always growing bill.

The slide backward is probably inevitable, but it’s good to remember that it didn’t have to be this way. Back in 2007, Gov. John Baldacci proposed a real consolidation of the jails into a single system under state control, but he was blocked by the counties and their allies in the Legislature.

In an attempt to appease them, the Legislature created a hybrid system where a lightly paid board of commissioners was given the job of mediating differences between the counties without the resources or the authority to make it work. The board never made progress on its most important job, developing programs to combat recidivism.

In an interview last week, Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said returning to county control would create winners and losers. Some of the older, overcrowded jails will have difficulty finding beds for the people they are required to hold. Other jails will have excess capacity, that they can rent to the state, federal prisons and other counties.

Why the counties fought so hard to maintain control of the jails is a mystery, but now that they appear to be on the verge of getting it back we can count one more loser.

The people of Maine, who will pay more for a corrections system that is not as good as it could have been.