The Cumberland County Jail, where one inmate has already been quarantined and is awaiting coronavirus test results, has begun releasing inmates to reduce its population and safeguard against the spread of the virus.

Sheriff Kevin Joyce said Friday afternoon that test results have not returned yet for that man, who is detained on a probation hold for traffic offenses. He was in custody at the Community Corrections Center, a prerelease facility that is separate from the general population at the jail.

Advocates in Maine and nationally have been calling for the release of inmates who are near the end of their sentences or at higher risk if they are infected. The American Civil Liberties Union sent letters to state and federal officials with that plea earlier this week. It raised concerns about the vulnerability of incarcerated people in the event of a coronavirus outbreak.

Jails around the country have begun releasing inmates considered not to be a public risk or who have underlying medical conditions.

Maine’s largest jail and its only youth prison are among those facilities that are reducing their numbers in response to the disease.

Joyce said Friday that his office has been working with defense attorneys and prosecutors to release people who are not a danger to the public, and the jail population is so far down by roughly 50 people from last week. An online list of confined inmates at the Cumberland County Jail had dropped below 300 by Friday.


“It’s a great exhibit of teamwork, and I think we’ve made some pretty good headway,” Joyce said.

He said that effort would continue. It’s unclear how many inmates could be eligible for early release.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re doing the right thing,” Joyce said. “We’re not necessarily trading one risk for another, in other words, putting somebody out on the street that is more dangerous.”

Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck said Friday that his office has reached agreements this week with defense attorneys and other parties to change bail conditions for roughly 60 people so they could be released. The prosecutor also said his office is still identifying people who could be candidates for release.

The Maine Judicial Branch has canceled many regular events, so people who are in pretrial detention are a particular concern, Sahrbeck said.

“Criminal cases won’t be moving forward like they regularly would,” Sahrbeck said. “We have to address this in a way that is fair to everybody involved.”


The commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections released a statement Friday that signaled similar changes. Randall Liberty wrote there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus among department staff or inmates at this time, but his department is reviewing which adults and juveniles could be transferred to supervised home confinement or released to the community.

“Clients deemed low risk, on community custody, or currently not serving a sentence for a violent crime are being reviewed first,” his statement read.

He also said 10 of 50 juveniles have already been or will be released from Long Creek Youth Development Center by March 27. Another four could be released by April 1 if the department can put necessary supports in place, and the staff is working to identify others who could be released as well.

Liberty also mentioned changes that have taken place in the department in recent weeks. Most programs have stopped, but the department is working to provide more stamps and free phone minutes for inmates to have contact with their families.

“We have been working around the clock to ensure the safety and security of the incarcerated population, staff and others,” Liberty wrote.

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