PORTLAND - Several women went to the Cumberland County Jail on Sunday afternoon hoping to cheer up their loved ones with a Father’s Day visit.

Instead, they were sent home.

The jail’s afternoon visitation session was canceled because the jail’s evening shift, which begins at 3 p.m., was understaffed.

Jail officials said four individuals, who had come to visit inmates at the 3:15 p.m. session, were affected. The morning visitation session happened without any problems.

“In order to keep things safe, they canceled the visitation,” Sheriff Kevin Joyce said after being contacted Sunday night. “The lieutenant on duty at the time made the decision not to go ahead with the visits and I support him because he was trying to keep inmates and the staff safe.”

Joyce said the staffing issue became a problem Sunday after two corrections officers called in sick.

At least two officers must supervise visitations to prevent families and inmates from exchanging drugs or weapons. They must also escort inmates to and from their cells and be ready to intervene if a fight between inmates were to break out in the visitation area.

Each inmate has to be patted down after a visitation ends.

Visitors are separated from the inmates by a Plexiglas window and no contact is permitted, but Joyce said that despite the restrictions inmates have figured out ways of obtaining drugs or weapons.

Capt. Steven Butts, who is in charge of jail security, said there was no one else available to staff the visitation room after the officers called in sick.

Butts said three pods, or cell blocks, were already at capacity before the weekend. Two more pods reached capacity Sunday. When a pod has 60 or more inmates, jail policy requires that each pod be supervised by at least two corrections officers instead of one.

Joyce said it was unfortunate that the visitation session had to be canceled on Father’s Day, but he said inmates are currently allowed two visitations a week. That may have to be reduced to one session if the jail’s funding situation does not improve.

Joyce said he has frozen six correction officer positions because he is not sure he will be given the money by the State Board of Corrections to fund those positions in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@mainetoday.com