Kennebec County justice system reforming bail, mental health, drug treatment

Three new Kennebec County initiatives seek to reduce the amount of time poor or mentally ill people spend in custody in the criminal justice system before they’re convicted of a crime and use medication-assisted treatment to help inmates addicted to drugs escape their addictions.

Two of the initiatives, switching to a risk-assessment based bail system and using medication to help inmates fight drug addiction in jail, would be the first of their kind in Maine, according to Maeghan Maloney, district attorney of Kennebec and Somerset counties.

The reforms, announced by county officials Thursday at the Capital Judicial Center, would replace the current cash-based bail system, which officials said can keep poor people accused of a crime in jail awaiting trial for longer than their sentence would be if they’re found guilty, with a new bail system based upon an assessment of their risk of reoffending or not showing up for court and only requiring cash bail for those deemed to be a high risk.

They also have created a new “mental health docket” once a month in court, intended to reduce the amount of time people with mental illness who are accused of crimes and are arrested spend stuck in the system waiting for an assessment of whether they are mentally competent, and speed the pace of them being connected to services that can help them.

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