Cumberland County leaders want to slash the county jail’s budget by more than 10% next year by “unfunding” dozens of vacant positions amid continued staffing shortages, a plan that has angered the facility’s union.

The proposal would take 48 of the jail’s current 128 positions out of the budget in an effort to shore up falling revenues, saving the county roughly $2.3 million. County leaders have said the positions, which are all currently unfilled, aren’t being permanently cut; they’re just not being funded next year. The proposal comes just as the jail resumed normal intake after nearly eight months of strict limits prompted by a lack of corrections officers. 

The head of the National Correctional Employees Union, which represents most of the jail’s workers, called the plan an attempt to unilaterally establish a “new normal.”

NCEU Executive Director William Doyle said any hiring limits could further damage the morale of employees, warning that the staff might need additional help if the jail’s new intake policies and efforts to court the U.S. Marshals Service lead to a population spike.

The jail’s financial problems have been growing for years due to staffing shortages and the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited the number of prisoners – and revenue – Cumberland could bring in, County Manager James Gailey wrote in his budget proposal to the County Commissioners. 

“This coming budget cannot act like nothing has changed,” Gailey wrote. “Truthfully, we’ve done that for one too many years.”


Normally, the county can expect the jail to collect between $2.5 and $3 million in federal funds each year by housing prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service, he said. But federal prisoners have not returned to Cumberland since the Marshal’s Service removed them last August in part because of staffing issues.

From September through the early part of this month, Sheriff Kevin Joyce closed the jail’s doors to most new intakes, which shrunk the jail’s population and will likely limit how much money it receives from the state and other counties. The jail’s population currently sits at around 225 prisoners, far fewer than the 425 inmates it housed on average before the pandemic.

The proposed budget also would cut spending on costs like inmate uniforms, utilities and office supplies. But given the relative inflexibility of jail budgets, Gailey said, county leaders have had no choice but to focus mainly on personnel costs.

“Unfortunately, the only place we could find that sizable an area to cut was the vacancies that we had in the corrections officer roster,” he said.


Cumberland County budgets for 128 correction officers, but just 62 of those positions are currently filled. The proposed budget would fund 86 correction officers and take away funding from other vacant positions like a community program officer, records clerk and sergeant positions, bringing the total savings to $2.35 million.


Gailey stressed that the reductions were short-term measures to balance the jail’s budget and said the county was still “110% committed to hiring as many correction officers as we can.” By “unfunding” rather than eliminating the vacant jail positions, he said, the county will be able to easily reincorporate them into future budgets.

“The budget that we have created is, in my mind, a one-year, temporary budget,” he said. “This is only to meet the existing conditions that we’re faced with for the next year.”

Yet in a letter to the Cumberland County Commissioners, Doyle said the entire plan is “obtuse and counterintuitive to the goal of recruitment and retention of corrections officers.”

“Since before the pandemic, which decimated the corrections industry, Cumberland County and Jail Management have largely ignored the NCEU and its members’ pleas for help related to staffing,” he wrote.

Doyle did not return a call Tuesday seeking an interview about the union’s position on the budget.

Like Gailey, Joyce in an interview Tuesday downplayed the proposal’s impact on the county’s hiring efforts, which he said have finally begun to yield results in recent weeks. If the jail does manage to fill the entire roster of budgeted positions, he said the county may be willing to provide money for more hires before next year’s budgeting process.


Joyce told said last week that more than 10 correction officers are either currently attending or waiting to attend the criminal justice academy but said the hiring process was “still not great.”


Shortly after the U.S. Marshals Service stopped housing federal inmates in Cumberland County last year, the agency drafted a corrective action plan outlining several steps the jail should take in order to bring the facility in line with federal standards, including filling “essential posts and positions.”

More than eight months later, talks with the federal agency are ongoing, Joyce said. By converting one existing sergeant position into a federal inmate unit manager, he hoped to make the jail more attractive to the agency, which has always valued Cumberland’s proximity to the U.S. District Courthouse in Portland.

“I know they want to get back in,” Joyce said.

He acknowledged the jail’s precarious financial position; rising food and drug costs make it harder to fund the jail’s day-to-day operations, he said, while an aging building will at some point require costly repairs. Still, the county should never rely on the Marshals Service for funding, Joyce said, because even if federal prisoners return, it will be impossible to predict how much money they will be bring in.

The budget proposal estimates the Marshals Service will return for six months with 34 prisoners, which will bring in nearly $1.1 million, a little more than 5% of the jail’s total budget. But Gailey’s letter to the commissioners acknowledges that figure is more a “hope” than an estimate.

Joyce said balancing the well-being of his limited staff and the jail’s financial interests in accepting more prisoners remains a challenge – one he said could become more difficult if the jail’s new intake rules lead to a rush of prisoners that again threaten to overwhelm his team.

“We have an obligation to be open fully,” he said. “I have an obligation to run a safe and secure jail and take care of my employees as well. We have a job to do, and somehow we’ll try to do it.”

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