Inside Maine’s County Court System
About this series
Seven months ago, Pine Tree Watch set out to determine whether Maine’s county court system was fair and consistent from one part of the state to another. Would someone convicted of a crime in Aroostook County get the same sentence as someone in York County? What seemed like a simple question turned out to be complicated by a lack of consistent data, elected district attorneys with different approaches to justice and programs that have proven to be successful for some but unavailable to others.
Over the next 10 weeks, Pine Tree Watch will examine the criminal justice system at a time when there’s appetite for major change. With a low crime rate and relatively few violent crimes, Maine could become a place for innovation when it comes to the treatment of those with mental illness, substance use disorder or trauma that sometimes leads to crime. Our series looks at the system – successes and failures – to test whether defendants and victims can rely on it to give them due process.
Due Process: A look inside Maine’s county courts is the culmination of that work.
Stories by Sue Cover & Julie Pike
Photography by Gabe Souza & Ryan David Brown
The Maine Legislature adjourned on March 17 due to concerns about the coronavirus. But lawmakers feel the pressure to decide on more than 450 bills, including several related to criminal justice, before new representatives are elected in November.
A bill to implement a text-messaging system reminding defendants of their court date was signed by Gov. Mills last June, but funds are still needed to hire a full-time overseer.
Washington County officials say that sharing a district attorney with Hancock County does not work. They want their own prosecutorial district to address a spike in drug-related crime.
Deferred dispositions are handled differently in Cumberland County compared to the rest of Maine, exemplifying another inconsistency in the state’s judicial system.
An e-filing and case management system, scheduled for full installation by 2022, will provide access to data for judicial officials and state legislators seeking to reform Maine’s criminal justice system.
Efforts to eliminate cash bail are being considered in the legislative and judicial branches as Maine examines ways to reform its criminal justice system.
Maine’s eight elected district attorneys wield plenty of power and influence in an increasingly inconsistent judicial system.
In a system full of inconsistencies and heavy caseloads, Maine’s eight elected district attorneys focus on public safety and potential judicial reforms.
A lack of data, DAs with differing agendas and inconsistent services have many pushing for reforms to Maine’s court system.
Expect Legislators to continue scrutinizing the state’s criminal justice system during this year’s abbreviated session in Augusta.