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Penobscot County Jail overcrowding concerns continue

COVID-19 increases the safety risk
Published: Oct. 20, 2020 at 5:27 PM EDT
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BANGOR, Maine (WABI) -At this weeks meeting of the Penobscot County Commissioners Sheriff Troy Morton reported 159 inmates at the Penobscot County Jail with an additional 47 boarded out to other facilities. The facility has an official capacity of 157 inmates.

“Local law enforcement has done a tremendous job in understanding the overcrowding issues that we have here at Penobscot County Jail. They have for years.”

Brewer Public Safety Director Jason Moffitt“The only time we’re making arrests now for the most part are warrants because people already haven’t shown up to court.”

Concerns over COVID have increased pressure on police departments to avoid making arrests whenever possible.

Veazie Police Chief Mark Leonard said that COVID has fundamentally changed his operations. “I have bailed more people from my police station in the past few months than I have in the prior twenty years that I’ve been chief of police.”

Backlogs in the court and continued drug problems have made things worse.

“On the many different ideas that we’ve tried to come up with on trying to reduce our population essentially everything is on the table.” says Morton.

Local police have long relied on a regional booking program that centralizes processing at the Penobscot County Jail, but it also increases the flow of people through the jail, raising the risk of infection.

Even before COVID overcrowding was considered a safety risk.

“Fingerprinting is done. Bail restrictions are done. Photographs are done. All in a regional records management base that all local law enforcement use here.”

Sheriff Morton says he knows how valuable regional booking is to local police, but its future is uncertain.

Chief Leonard says without regional booking his officers can get tied up. “There have been times where citizens have had to wait for a response time because we’ve been dealing with prisoners.”

“It’s been a service that’s been in place for several decades and engaging the communities around us to understand that this isn’t only a county issue." says Morton. "This impacts all of our municipalities and state agencies around us.”

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