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State review finds several county jails failed to follow COVID-19 protocol to protect inmates, employees

The Maine Department of Corrections reviewed 14 facilities statewide following the outbreak at the York County Jail.

ALFRED, Maine — A new report by the Maine Department of Corrections revealed serious deficiencies in the state's county jails surrounding COVID-19 protocols.

The Department conducted a statewide review of 14 facilities following the outbreak at the York County Jail that impacted more than half of the jail's staff and inmate population in August. 

The review found York County was not the only place that failed to mandate mask-wearing among inmates, staff, and visitors.

At least four other facilities—in Kennebec, Knox, Somerset, and Waldo counties—did not require masks. 

"Some were taking things more seriously than others," Commissioner Randall Liberty told NEWS CENTER Maine. 

The review also found serious shortfalls in prevention screenings of both employees and inmates. 

Only nine of the jails required new inmates to quarantine or test negative for the virus upon admission.

Liberty said he and his team are now in daily communication with county leaders, admitting that his power at the state level is limited. 

"Each of the sheriffs has to decide what precautions they're going to employ and what their duty is to keep facilities safe," he said.

Officials in York County are not willing to comment as an independent investigation is underway at that facility.

A spokesperson for the Department of Corrections said it was not included in its review because "MDOC staff visited with YCJ prior to the planned reviews."

"I'm still frustrated," Lacey Bailey said.

Bailey, the wife of a corrections officer in York County, first spoke to NEWS CENTER Maine last month after she contracted the virus from her husband. They have both recovered. 

RELATED: 'I don't want my child to get sick': Wife of York County Jail employee contracts COVID-19

She said she feels county officials across Maine need to do more to protect their staff, their families, and their communities. 

"I kinda feel like if the maybe the jail had been more cautious maybe we wouldn't have to go through COVID, maybe that wouldn't have been brought home to our house," Bailey said.

All corrections officers are required to wear N-95 masks inside the facility, according to Bailey. 

Inmate advocates are outraged by the report and are continuing calls for the early release of low-level offenders amid the pandemic. 

Joseph Jackson with The Maine Prisoners Advocacy Coalition said state lawmakers need to create more oversight to streamline standards statewide. 

"This is not something new," Jackson said. "The Department of Corrections has already acknowledged they have no real power when it comes to what the county jails decide they want to do."

The Department of Corrections reported all facilities have made the necessary changes since the initial review. 

Officials are now conducting surprise audits and plan to have another full review completed in 60 days. 

"If they were taking more precautions then much of this could have been avoided," Bailey said.