Inmates who have taken on a “prison mentality” because of repeated incarceration for heroin offenses were responsible for the non-violent standoff Wednesday night at the York County Jail in Alfred, Sheriff William King Jr. said Thursday.

The jail remained in lockdown during the day Thursday after 30 or so inmates refused to go into their cells from about 8:30 to 9:20 p.m. Wednesday. King said staff members at the jail were reviewing video recordings to see who among the male inmates led the protest.

King said that as the heroin epidemic in Maine grows in severity, the number of repeat offenders who have already served time in jails or prisons has increased.

“This is just a different caliber of inmate that we are dealing with,” King said of the standoff organizers. “It’s a prison mentality in a county jail.”

In response, the York County jail staff has stepped up enforcement of rules to keep those inmates in check.

“We are getting more sophisticated offenders because of the heroin epidemic,” King said.

He said the inmates staged the “passively non-compliant” standoff to protest recent policy changes at the jail, which he refused to describe, other than to say the changes were operational. He said the standoff was initially “mischaracterized as a riot,” leading to an outsized response by York County sheriff’s deputies, officers from surrounding towns and ambulance crews.

The jail supervisor called in all available personnel, and police blocked the jail entrance with cruisers for more than an hour.

“It ended when some of the higher-level jail (staff members) came in and said, ‘This isn’t how you are going to get your issue heard,’ ” King said.

About half of the inmates in the general population unit where the standoff took place didn’t take part and remained in their cells. The inmates staged their standoff in a large, open common area in the unit, King said. That unit can hold 79 inmates.

On Thursday, jail staff responded to the incident by searching all cells, strictly enforcing rules such as no more than two books per cell and removing pictures. Many of the inmates involved were moved to different units to break up cliques that may have formed in the general population unit.

 


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