WISCASSET — The board overseeing Two Bridges Regional Jail voted Wednesday to spend $150,000 for a body scanner, as well as to hire two new staff members. The decisions were made due to a proposed rule change requiring the jail to provide in-person visits.

Currently, visitation with inmates at Two Bridges is predominately done via video so there isn’t personal contact between an inmate and visitor. James Bailey, the correctional administrator for Two Bridges, said that could change. The Maine Department of Corrections is proposing a rule that would require the jail to return to in-person visitation.

Body Scanner

When the jail offered in-person visits in the past, “we found a ton of drugs coming in through the visitation,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the level of contraband dropped a minimum of 60% when the jail moved to video visits with inmates.

The body scanner is an essential tool to help the jail keep weapons and contraband out of the jail, Bailey said. Like a scanner at an airport, it detects weapons and contraband someone might be carrying in their clothing or inside their body. It can also ensure inmates are taking their own medication and not bringing it back to the housing units where it can be sold.

“There’s always an issue of contraband,” Bailey said. “We’ve dealt with that for years and years.”

Jail authority member Mark Waltz opposed the body scanner so the jail can wait to see if there are federal grants that become available to help fund the equipment. An audit report found the jail’s fund balance is getting low, “and I would be concern about an expense that would take more money out of it,” Waltz said.

Bailey said the scanner will be paid for out of the jail’s capital improvement account, which currently has about $950,000.

New positions

The jail authority also voted to hire two employees, which would cost as much as $180,000 for a year, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Bailey said the staff would assist the jail in quarantining new inmates. The additional staff would also supervise in-person visitation as proposed by the state Department of Corrections.

The increased staff costs would be covered by the new six-month boarding contract for $280,000 with Oxford County starting Jan. 1, 2021, Bailey said. The jail authority approved the new contract Wednesday.

Jail authority member Pam Hiles, the administrator for Sagadahoc County, voted for the additional staff to ensure the jail meets quarantining requirements.

“A number of us, however, were concerned about assuming additional long-term expense at a time when our reserves are decreasing and boarding revenues aren’t guaranteed,” she said.

Waltz said Thursday he wouldn’t have supported the additional staff members if they weren’t needed to respond to the pandemic. If the state Department of Corrections approves new rules that require Two Bridges to use in-person visits, “in essence it is an unfunded mandate from the state.”

Bailey said he expects the two new staff members will be among 11 employees laid off over the summer due to current fiscal year budget cuts eliminating 15-position. Those cuts were in response to cost of living wage increases and the struggle to keep inmate boarding contracts with other counties.

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