Nearly 30 inmates from two cell blocks at Androscoggin County Jail initiated a hunger strike Monday morning to demand more in-jail testing for COVID-19 and to express their displeasure with their mattresses. They ended the hunger strike Tuesday. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

AUBURN — Jail inmates ended their one-day hunger strike Tuesday over COVID-19 testing and the quality of bedding, according to a county official.

Nearly 30 inmates from two cell blocks at Androscoggin County Jail initiated the strike Monday morning to demand more in-jail testing for the virus and to express their displeasure with their mattresses by refusing their meal trays, Sheriff Eric Samson said Tuesday.

Although the jail’s policies had allowed since the pandemic struck in March that any inmate would be tested for COVID-19 upon request, Samson said the group of striking inmates had apparently been unaware of that policy.

He said his administration met in September with Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention in an effort to work toward implementing a “practical and proficient way” to test everyone at the jail.

“So, our medical staff is going around the facility offering testing to the entire inmate population,” he said.

Meanwhile, the jail will continue mandatory testing of all new arrivals and inmates displaying symptoms, he said.

Jail staff met Tuesday morning with the Maine CDC to ensure the jail’s medical provider was using the correct swabs for testing.

Androscoggin County Jail inmates ended their one-day hunger strike Tuesday over COVID-19 testing and the quality of bedding. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

The striking inmates had asked for stronger cleaning supplies, something Samson said wasn’t possible because all chemicals used in the jail have to be approved.

The strikers’ issues were resolved and they began eating bag lunches “right away,” Samson said. The inmates were told mattresses were replaced as needed and they dropped the issue, Samson said.

“If they had basically just communicated with us through the normal channels rather than a phone call through a friend posting on Facebook,” the situation would likely have been resolved sooner, Samson said.

On Monday, a shift supervisor had called an assistant jail administrator who, in turn, called the jail administrator about the strike.

The jail administrator phoned Samson, but because it was a holiday, he had to wait until Tuesday to meet with the jail’s returning administrative staff and the striking inmates to address the issues.

“They were cooperative. They weren’t being rowdy,” Samson said. “So we said, ‘Well, we’ll resolve it in the morning.'”

Samson said there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the jail.


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