Officials at the Cumberland County Jail have learned that when an inmate snuck out of his cell to have sex with a female inmate two weeks ago, it was not the first time an inmate had slipped the lock on a maximum security cell.

A review of jail records prompted by a request from the Portland Press Herald found that on two occasions in 2002, inmates were able to get out of their maximum security cells.

In neither case was there any contact between the inmates who jimmied their locks and other inmates, Sheriff Kevin Joyce said today.

The jail is scrutinizing its security procedures after Arien L’Italien jimmied the lock on his maximum security cell late March 9, snuck into female area where Karla Wilson jimmied the lock on her door to let him in. An hour later, L’Italien was caught going back to his cell.

Joyce said the incident was an unfortunate lapse but an anomaly, and the jail and its staff meet the highest national standards established by the American Correctional Association and the state.

“We do a lot of things right every day, and we’re always working to stay one step of ahead of the inmates, who are always looking to manipulate the system somewhere, be it drugs or messing with locks or what have you,” Joyce said.

Joyce’s review of the records show that on Sept. 16, 2002, corrections officers discovered that a female inmate had apparently tampered with the locks and gotten out of her cell.

“A female was able to get out of her cell into the day room, but she didn’t go any further than that. They said that it appears she had messed with the locks,” Joyce said.

Then, during a bed check on Oct. 16, 2002, an officer found that two inmates had packed plastic into the equivalent of the cell’s doorjamb so that the bolt would not latch. Although neither was caught outside his cell, the inmates were placed under segregation for the offense.

However, two weeks later, one of them used the same technique to slip out after lockdown and go from the day room outside his cell to the day room for another bank of cells housing male inmates.

A corrections officer spotted the inmate — in pink boxer shorts — running from one day room to the other and he was returned to his cell. The day rooms involved were the same ones at issue in the L’Italien-Wilson encounter.

“He never got into anyone else’s cell,” Joyce said. The incident report does not describe the purpose of the inmate’s night time sojourn.

Joyce said the report also does not say whether the day room doors were open. Those doors, which open from a common area outside the cells onto a landing, were normally left open, which enabled L’Italien to slip out of his cell area and into Wilson’s.

It appears they were open in 2002, too, because the inmate was reported to have moved from one day room to another.

The incident occurred during the tenure of former Sheriff Mark Dion, now a state representative. Joyce was a captain in the sheriff’s patrol division at the time and said he has no direct knowledge of the incidents.

The technique of packing the locks with plastic so they do not latch is apparently how L’Italien got out of his cell and how Wilson let him into hers, where the two had sex on March 9. L’Italien was caught returning from the female cells to his own block of cells.

State inspectors visited the jail Monday and were satisfied that the steps taken by the corrections staff should prevent similar incidents in the future, Joyce said..

The jail staff now lock the day room doors, have moved the observation post in the maximum security area for better visibility, and physically check the locks for tampering.

“What we’re doing now is actually physically checking the hole where the striker plate is on the door and making sure nothing is packed in there,” a check that is recorded in a daily log book, he said.

Joyce said the jail’s electrician also has identified a way to have a buzzer sound when a cell door is opened after hours, alerting corrections officers. He expects an internal review will be completed next week and any other deficiencies will be identified.

Joyce has despite the March 9 incident, the public can be confident that the jail and its staff are some of the highest-rated in Maine.

The jail set a state record in 2000 with a 97 percent rating in its first state inspection, according to press reports at the time. It also was the first correctional facility in Maine to be nationally accredited.

Joyce said a national review by the American Correctional Association, issued in 2007 found the jail in compliance with all mandatory standards and in compliance with 99.5 percent of non-mandatory standards. The jail met 98.3 percent of non-mandatory standards in 2011, he said.

The state’s biennium inspection in December, found the jail met all state standards, according to its report.

“When things are going very well, you don’t hear about the good things they’re doing,” Joyce said.

“This one incident, it was a wake up call for the corrections officers but also a big disappointment,” he said. “They’re back on track doing their job professionally the way they do it on a day by day basis.”

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