Officers stand guard in August 2017 outside the front door of the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — As the state Department of Corrections continues its courtesy inspections of county jails across Maine, Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason said he would not allow an in-person inspection of the jail in Augusta.

Citing the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases across the state, Mason said he has locked down the jail again, not allowing visitors in or haircuts to take place.

“We’re back to where we were in late March,” Mason said Tuesday in his regular update  to the Kennebec County commissioners.

That includes furloughing inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes who are nearing the end of their sentences, and asking police departments across the county “not to go actively warrant hunting,” Mason said.

In August, the state Department of Corrections inspected Maine’s 15 county jails, following an outbreak at the York County jail. Corrections staff looked at eight criteria, including: Having a diversion plan; having a universal testing plan; screening staff and visitors for symptoms and fever; whether staff, inmates and visitors were wearing masks; and taking measures to observe distancing.

Three jails in Franklin, Hancock and Washington counties were observing all the protocols. Two other jails, the Cumberland County jail and Two Bridges Regional Jail, which serves Lincoln and Sagadahoc counties, had no diversion plan but observed all the other protocols.

In Kennebec County, only the distancing measures were observed.

In September, Mason released a statement on the inspection results. He said his staff implemented the recommendations of the Department of Corrections the day after the inspection.

“All correctional facilities basically do the same thing but because of varying structure etc things may vary slightly,” he wrote. “Those in charge of running each facility knows what best practices for their facilities are.”

Kennebec County Commissioner Nancy Rines, who represents cities and towns across southern and western Kennebec County, asked Mason if any “no” on the inspection report had been turned into a “yes.”

“I thought it would be beneficial for them to publicly say it,” Rines said.

“It was very kind of the Department of Corrections to throw us under the bus when we had no COVID,” Mason said. “I don’t know if that was their intent. We’re doing exactly what we can to protect ourselves.”

No case of COVID-19 has been reported at the Kennebec County jail since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March. Since then, the county has spent more than $10,000 on masks, gloves and sanitizer for the jail.

“They (the DOC) don’t run our jails, we do,” Mason said.

Anna Black, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Corrections, said the current round of courtesy inspections is expected to be completed by the end of next week.

Since the round of inspections conducted in August, the COVID-19 infection rate has undergone a tremendous change. While the state’s COVID-19 infection rate was among the lowest in the nation, the highly contagious respiratory disease has been spreading aggressively over the past few weeks across Maine.

Thursday marked the 11th consecutive day the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention has reported more than 100 new cases. In that same time, Thursday was the fourth day on which more than 200 new cases were reported.

To reduce risk, Black said the Department of Corrections is conducting inspections in person and by virtual meetings.

“We’ve all been dodging bullets,” Mason said. “We try so hard to keep it out, but sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you fail.”

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