AUBURN — Authorities at the Androscoggin County Jail were told to stop sending sentenced inmates to state prisons because of an outbreak of COVID-19, an official there said Thursday.

Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

Sheriff Eric Samson said the Maine Department of Corrections had notified a transport officer at Pleasant Street jail late last week that no inmates sentenced to serve time at state corrections facilities would be accepted until further notice.

Androscoggin County Jail’s transport officer, in turn, told his supervisors at the about the directive, Samson said.

Of the jail’s 23 sentenced inmates, nine had been scheduled to be taken to a state prison Thursday, Samson said. The remaining 14 inmates will serve their sentences at the jail, he said.

As of Thursday, the head count at the jail stood at 153, Samson said, just seven short of the jail’s capacity.

The jail had been sending sentenced inmates since late June to state facilities.

Two months after the novel coronavirus struck Maine in March, the Department of Corrections began barring prisoners from coming into their facilities under an executive order from Gov. Janet Mills.

Starting in late March, some counties had started releasing inmates serving jail sentences early to free up jail space in an effort to keep the coronavirus at bay.

In late June, at the urging of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association, the department resumed accepting from county jail inmates who had been ordered to serve state prison sentences. The department initially limited the number of transfers, but gradually lifted those restrictions.

On Thursday, department spokeswoman Anna Black issued a news release that said a dozen inmates at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham had tested positive for COVID-19 that day and had been isolated while more accurate molecular testing was undertaken to confirm the initial rapid antigen test results. That testing had been undertaking due to the inmates’ possible exposure to an inmate who had been identified as symptomatic a day earlier.

“To stem transmission of the virus, the department suspended visits to (the Windham facility) and Maine State Prison, canceled all intakes from county jails and canceled transfer of inmates between MDOC facilities,” Black wrote in a media statement. The outbreak was reported to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

The local jail has not had a confirmed positive COVID-19 case among inmates or staff, Samson said.

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