WISCASSET — Two Bridges Regional Jail has seen its overall inmate population drop 30-40% during the coronavirus pandemic amid efforts reduce the likelihood of the virus spreading among inmates and staff.

Correctional Administrator James Bailey said the jail is averaging between 70 and 75 inmates. In January, the inmate population was 137.

The jail serves Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties and has contracts to house inmates for Oxford and Penobscot counties. Bailey said all have worked hard to use furloughs or diversion programs and other outside programs to help keep the inmate population down.

Bailey said the sheriff’s departments are using home release programs for low-risk, nonviolent offenders. Those releases come with restrictions such as curfews and regular check-ins. Some Two Bridges inmates have been released via similar programs or the medical furlough program for those at high risk of getting seriously ill if exposed to the coronavirus.

The courts also are working to keep the population down by setting bail for individuals charged with nonviolent offenses, Bailey said. On top of that, fewer people are being arrested in the midst of the state’s stay-at-home order

“We have to worry about our own people,” Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry said. “Sometimes people don’t want to be arrested and we don’t want to go hands-on with these people. You can’t affect an arrest virtually but you can give someone a piece of paper with a court date to appear in court.”

“If someone commits a serious crime, they will be arrested, for something like a domestic assault,” Merry added. “Now the difference is, a driving offense, operating after suspension or (driving under the influence) charge, instead of just taking them to jail and getting a bail slip, we’ll try to release them on a personal recognizance,” with the promise they will later appear in court.

Bailey said the jail is taking several steps to protect its inmates and staff, including daily screenings. Employees are supplied with personal protective equipment, he said.

The jail is closed the public and family visitation. New inmates were a face mask before entering the facility until they are screened for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. All staff are required to wear a cloth mask or face covering whenever they can’t be at least 6 feet apart from others and cleaning and sanitizing efforts have been increased.

There are also two negative pressure cells at the jail that contains any virus, located in the medical department. The jail has testing kits to test for COVID-19. Five inmates and three staff members have been quarantined and tested so far but the tests were negative.

Additionally, the jail authority’s executive committee on Monday agreed to provide some additional assistance for employees. It voted to give employees an additional 80 hours of earned-time off, which they can also cash in on starting the first of May. That provides additional time off if needed or financial assistance. There are approximately 53 employees at the jail.

 


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