ALFRED — About 30 to 35 inmates at York County Jail are expected to be temporarily transferred to Cumberland County Jail in Portland as the county attempts to deal with the impact of about 20 corrections staff vacancies.

York County Commissioners on Wednesday unanimously agreed to enter a memorandum of understanding with Cumberland County that will allow York County Jail to board inmates there.

The measure will allow the county to temporarily close one housing unit.

The shortage of corrections workers — down about 20 from 76 budgeted positions — has meant corrections staff can be ordered to work up to 56 hours per week. They can volunteer to work more hours if they like — and are allowed to work a a maximum of 72 hours weekly, according to the contract between the county government and the National Correctional Employees Union.

York County Sheriff William L. King Jr. and County Manager Greg Zinser have called the staffing shortage ‘critical.’

King said boarding prisoners at Cumberland County Jail should take some of the pressure off the staff.

“We wanted to relieve staff and get back on track. I look at it like a reset,” said King on Thursday. “The staff are getting burned out.”

Zinser agreed. He said it is time to be proactive and provide some relief to the staff.

The cost to board inmates at Cumberland County Jail will be $65 per inmate per day, which works out to about $58,000 per month for 30 inmates, or around $232,000 for the four months referred to in the MOU.

National Correctional Employees Union regional director William Doyle said the boarding measure will provide some relief for corrections  officers working long hours, but won’t cure underlying staffing problems.

“The staffing issue is not something new,” Doyle said.

The worker shortage is attributed to the low unemployment rate and the number of  jobs  readily available in York County. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has recruited heavily, as have other area industries.

The county recently offered a $1,500 signing bonus in an attempt to recruit corrections staff, whose starting salary is $16.80 per hour. York County Jail Superintendent Michael Vitiello said about 25 applications are in various stages of processing. He told commissioners on Wednesday that corrections officer training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro begins in January and ends around mid-February.

Because the jail has had vacancies since the beginning of the fiscal year, Zinser said, there are already savings in the personnel budget, though he also pointed out there is  overtime spending. On Thursday, he said he expected the outcome of the plan to be a financial “ wash” by the end of the fiscal year.

Commissioner Richard Clark asked if closing a housing unit would leave enough space in the rest of the jail for additional inmates, if needed.

“There is additional bed space for the primary population we serve,” said Vitiello.

This will be the first time York County has boarded inmates elsewhere since the jail opened in January 2004. Prior to the move to the new facility that year, the county frequently found itself in the position of boarding prisoners at other county jails because of overcrowding in the jail build in the mid-1970s. With the move to the new, larger facility, the county often took in prisoners from other counties, a practice that continued for some time.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

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