A smaller jail

Public attitudes toward criminal justice are changing. There are many fewer people saying, “lock ’em up and throw away the key” because jails and prisons are overflowing. Incarceration is not good for those who are arrested, for taxpayers, or the community where inmates return.

Even many district attorneys, police chiefs, and county sheriffs are recognizing that jails and prisons don’t heal people or increase public safety. So, it is distressing that Penobscot County commissioners are considering spending $65-70 million for a new, larger county jail.

The current Penobscot County Jail is in bad condition. It’s over capacity and the county spends a lot sending inmates to be housed in other county jails. But, the proposed fix is to send to voters a bond issue to build a 300-bed jail, almost doubling the size.

We think there are better options. A group has formed to advocate for a smaller jail, one that diverts many arrestees to mental health, substance use disorder, and other services. There are alternatives to incarceration, such as restorative justice, community service, and social services that help address poverty, homelessness, addiction, and violence. All of these services can be expanded for a much smaller price tag than a new jail.

Those who want a smaller jail are speaking out to encourage alternatives to jail at weekly meetings of the Penobscot County Commissioners on Tuesdays beginning at 9 a.m. at the courthouse, 97 Hammond Street, in downtown Bangor.

There are other actions people can take to reduce the size of a new jail, such as arranging talks about the proposal and joining our citizens group.

August Sender


Health care for all

This week, legislators in Augusta are considering eight innovative bills aiming at health care for all.

Good! It’s about time for Maine — and America — to give serious thought to universal health care.

Some people like to say, “Oh, we can’t have that. It’s too expensive, and nobody wants to pay high taxes like the Europeans do.”

But in reality, the vast majority of Maine employees already have private health care premiums automatically deducted from their paychecks.

If you look at these deductions as taxes — which they are, for all practical purposes — we pay some of the highest rates in the world while getting some of the worst health outcomes of any high-income country.

This is ridiculous and unfair. All we’re doing is helping rich insurance and pharmaceutical companies get even richer — at our expense.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s iron out the kinks and — finally — launch true health care for all. It’s good for our fellow Mainers. It’s good for our economy. And it’s the right thing to do.

George Simonson


Vaccination and personal responsibility

In the mid 1990s I was in private practice as a nurse midwife in Aroostook County. During that time I became very ill with pertussis (whooping cough). At one point, my airway closed off completely and I couldn’t breath until I nearly lost consciousness. That was the closest I have ever come to believing I was going to die.

A short time later, a patient came in complaining of a severe cough. Her toddler was also ill and was being treated for asthma with no improvement. Because of my own experience, I recognized a pertussis cough and advised her to take her child back to his pediatrician for treatment. The child tested positive for pertussis, sparking a minor public health emergency, since he had three older siblings attending a conservative parochial school in which almost no one was immunized. All of the children at the school, their families, and everyone who had been in the doctor’s office when the sick child was there had to be treated with antibiotics to prevent a potentially deadly disease outbreak.

Those children are all adults now, and none of them died of pertussis because I was able to recognize a characteristic cough that most care providers have never heard. Unvaccinated children are not only in deadly danger themselves, they are a danger to newborns, the elderly, and anyone who is immunocompromised or in poor health. It is not a personal choice, it is a personal responsibility. If you you love your children, vaccinate them.

Barbara Miller