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The facility off of Hammond Street in downtown Bangor is structurally sound, but it’s currently over capacity, housing more than the 157 inmates it’s equipped to jail.
Penobscot County Jail and Court House Bangor, ME

BANGOR, Maine — There’s a proposal in the works to build an entirely new Penobscot County Jail.

The price tag for taxpayers? $65 million.

The facility off of Hammond Street in downtown Bangor is structurally sound, but it’s currently over capacity, housing more than the 157 inmates it’s equipped to jail.

Penobscot County Commissioner Peter Baldacci said, on average, the jail houses 190 inmates.

“It’s overcrowded and its been overcrowded for at least five or six years,” said Baldacci.

Even more inmates facing charges in Penobscot County are being shipped to neighboring counties to be jailed, at a price of $800,000 a year.

“The cost of incarceration is significant,” added Baldacci.

The proposed solution is to build a jail for 300 inmates and allow for enough room to house all of the inmates under one roof.

This new, freestanding jail would be built behind the current jail.

“It’s too costly to build a 300 bed all-standing jail and walk away from our investment in the current jail,” said Baldacci.

An alternative proposal to building an entirely new jail facility is to build an addition to the current facility with 150 beds.

State Representative Steve Stanley said he can get on board with the addition to the current jail.

“That will help them with the problem that they have and with their future needs down the road,” said Stanley.

Officials with knowledge of both plans said this alternative would cost taxpayers $20-30 million dollars but may be equal in cost over time, given staffing and management costs.

Still, Baldacci said he’s leaning toward the proposal to build an addition because it lets taxpayers off the hook for the steep price, which would be paid out over the next 30 years.

Stanley said the issue of overcrowding isn’t a new one for the Penobscot County Jail, and he and his colleagues are partially to blame.

“They’ve seen it coming for years,” said Stanley. “We as a legislature are making a lot more laws that are putting people in jail.”

Stanley said building an entirely new facility on the taxpayers’ dime isn’t the solution though.

“The solution for the $60-70 million dollar jail is a little bit far-fetched because you’re talking a $4 million dollar increase in the county budget,” said Stanley.

Penobscot County would quickly go from having no debt to decades of debt with the proposal to build a new jail.

“It comes out of the taxpayers’ pocket,” added Stanley.

“I do have concerns about 30 years of debt,” said Baldacci.

Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton released a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine in which he said he does “support the building of a new correctional facility.”

The statement went on to say, in part, “the inmates incarcerated today often pose many challenges. Mental health, substance abuse, violence, and medical issues are real challenges and impact housing. […] While some changes in mental health and substance abuse may occur, there are still many laws being enacted and increased class of crimes implemented. The requirements being placed on correctional facilities require space to accomplish them.”

Baldacci said the county commissioners will need to make a decision as to which direction they’ll take on the issue next month if the proposal is to be put on the ballot in November as a bond issue.

It remains to be seen which solution, if any, the taxpayers in Penobscot County will support.

“When people are putting a bond issue for schools, for example, there’s a natural constituency that’s going to support better and more modern schools,” said Baldacci. “There’s not a natural constituency for a more modern jail. There are people who work to provide services in the jail who want to see us do something significant and have better facilities.”

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Christopher Ruhlin, owner of Herbal Tea and Tobacco, is shown in the smoking parlor of the Bangor shop.

The man who ran a downtown Bangor smoking lounge for medical marijuana users was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court to a year and a day in federal prison.

Terrence Sawtelle admitted to conspiring with Christopher Ruhlin, the owner of Herbal Tea & Tobacco, to illegally sell marijuana from a dispensary that was not licensed by the state. Sawtelle rented space from Ruhlin and operated 13 Owl’s Club as a hookah lounge for about two years beginning in 2014, according to court documents.

Herbal Tea & Tobacco still operates at 44 Main St. and on Hogan Road in Bangor. The smoking lounge is closed.

Sawtelle, 49, of Bangor and Ruhlin, 49, of Holden pleaded guilty last year to drug conspiracy charges. Ruhlin also pleaded guilty to one count of structuring, or trying to hide cash deposits from bank regulators.

[Bangor head shop owner pleads guilty to pot-growing scheme]

Ruhlin is to be sentenced Tuesday afternoon in federal court in Bangor.

U.S. District Judge Jon Levy said at Sawtelle’s sentencing that the pair not only broke federal law but also did not abide by Maine’s medical marijuana statutes. The rules allow medical marijuana caregivers to grow pot for five people who have the proper paperwork.

Ruhlin and Sawtelle had four patients on the books but used the fifth position as a “floater,” court documents said. The fifth person came to the lounge, immediately became a patient, but once the person left, he or she was no longer considered a patient, and another customer would become the fifth patient.

The pair did not sell marijuana to people who did not have medical marijuana cards but the business was not licensed as a dispensary, according to court documents. In July and August 2016, an undercover confidential informant made three separate purchases of marijuana without the proper paperwork.

At his sentencing, Sawtelle said he was “deeply remorseful” for his actions.

“My foolishness was trusting someone who was not an attorney about the legalities” of dispensing medical marijuana, he told the judge.

[Feds charge owner of Bangor head shop with growing, selling pot]

Sawtelle’s attorney, Charles Hodsdon of Bangor, described his client as a “true believer in the medicinal value of marijuana.” He said that Sawtelle and Ruhlin were lifelong friends when the two decided to open the smoking lounge.

Sawtelle purchased marijuana from Ruhlin and other illegal suppliers. Levy said that an average of a quarter pound of pot per day was sold from the smoking lounge. When the 13 Owl’s Club was raided in August 2016, three pounds of processed marijuana was seized, the judge said Tuesday.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Sawtelle faced between 18 and 24 months in federal prison. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Casey recommended Sawtelle be sentenced to 18 months in prison. Hodsdon urged the judge to impose a sentence of probation and community service.

In addition to prison time, Levy sentenced Sawtelle to three years of supervised release. By sentencing Sawtelle to a year and a day, he will be able to earn time off his sentence for good behavior. The judge ordered Sawtelle to report to prison March 14.

Three other men who grew marijuana for Ruhlin in Frankfort were sentenced in the case last year after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy charges.

Nicholas Reynolds, 34, of Bangor is serving a six-month sentence to be followed by three years of supervised release. The first six months of his supervised release must be spent in home confinement. He is incarcerated at the federal correctional institute in Berlin, New Hampshire, and is due to be released April 22.

Jeremy Duguay, 35, of Bangor was sentenced last year to two years of probation for his limited role in the operation.

Reynolds and James Mansfield operated an indoor pot farm in a Frankfort warehouse that produced between 5 and 6 pounds of marijuana per month that was sold through the smoking lounge.

Mansfield, 34, of Etna was sentenced last June to a year and a day in prison for his role in the conspiracy. He is incarcerated at a federal facility in Devens, Massachusetts. He is due to be released June 21.

Reynolds and Mansfield grew marijuana at the Frankfort warehouse — a larger, sophisticated indoor grow facility — from October 2010 to August 2016. The warehouse was leased to Ruhlin between December 2010 and November 2013. Ruhlin left the conspiracy in 2014, but sold marijuana grown there by others between May 2014 and Aug. 25, 2016, according to court documents.

In May 2016, law enforcement officers executed a federal search warrant at the facility and recovered about 400 marijuana plants, 295 marijuana root balls, and paraphernalia used to manufacture and process marijuana.

The operation would have been illegal under state laws governing medical marijuana.

The maximum sentence on the drug conspiracy charge is 20 years and a fine of up to $1 million.

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