BANGOR/ROCKLAND – While there are no signs of COVID-19 among their populations, Knox and Penobscot County are taking necessary precautions to avoid potential spread in their facilities.
Knox County announced it has released 20 of its 70 prisoners, while Penobscot County will continue to gradually release prisoners.
“We looked at the population as to what the crimes were and is there a possible way to get people out that are not risk to the public to possibly get them into other programs or home confinement,” Knox County Sheriff, Tim Carroll, said.
“We take a close look at our populations all the time the folks that we are releasing may be a few days out they may be released in the next five to 10 days so they were being expected to be released anyhow,” Penobscot County Sheriff, Troy Morton, said.
Both jails are taking a proactive approach to stopping the potential spread of coronavirus in their jails, but Penobscot County is a little ahead of the curve.
“Because we’re overcrowded all the time it’s something that we practice all the time. We’re down about 50 or 60 inmates. It’s a combination of the lack of individuals being brought in by local police departments and the fact that we are releasing some of our low-risk, no-risk individuals,” Morton said.
New York City announced it would be releasing an estimated 300 of its 5,000 prisoners from Rikers Island after an inmate tested positive for COVID-19. Mayor Bill de Blasio said prisoners who are over 70-years-old and have at least five pre-existing conditions that put them at greater risk for becoming infected with a severe case would be released immediately.
In addition, prisoners who have domestic violence or sexual assault charges will not be released. The measure is geared towards prisoners with less than one year left on their sentences, misdemeanors or nonviolent felonies.
In Maine, prisons and jails have lower populations than New York. Which makes it tougher for jails to come up with a specific group of prisoner to be released.
“Many will know some not know that we have over 100 individuals already out in the community in our pre-trial services program so when we come back and look at the current population that we have it’s a little more difficult to look at individuals that pose no risk to the public,” Morton added.
Instead, Knox and Penobscot are releasing prisoners on a case-by-case basis while keeping both the safety of the public and prisoner in mind.
“The number one goal is keeping public safety,” Carroll said.
“When people are being released there’s criticism that now that individuals are released that there are no services out there to help them. There’s shutdown of our shelters, shutdown of some food services and things like that so it really potentially putting people at risk upon their release,” Morton added.
Morton and Carroll added that released prisoners will have structure/programs available to ensure they can succeed in society.
They also said that some prisoners may have to return to prison and others will be released out right on a case-by-case basis.
Both Knox and Penobscot County jails say they have no timetable for those decisions at the moment.