Maine’s correctional system has failed incarcerated people across the state during the coronavirus pandemic. Inmates at the Androscoggin County Jail just went on hunger strike for the second time to protest unsafe conditions and poor health care services, according to the Sun Journal. This spring, when virus numbers skyrocketed in Maine, the York County Jail banned inmates from wearing masks. The Medical Examiner’s Office has determined that COVID-19 was a factor in the death of Jason Daigle, an inmate at the York jail who died in September.

Inmate Jason Daigle died at the York County Jail in September; the Maine Medical Examiner’s Office has concluded that coronavirus was a factor in his death.  Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Maine people in jail need advocates. Court-appointed attorneys, who represent Mainers unable to pay for a lawyer, are spread across the state and lack the organization to challenge jail conditions. A public defender service would hold the correctional system to account for their failure to protect the health of inmates. In a Nov. 8 Maine Voices column, Max Vogel argued, “Attorneys in a public defender service, unlike appointed counsel, are able to work together toward a shared goal with coordinated tactics.” Shared goals, such as basic safety measures to save the lives of inmates like Daigle.

It’s past time for Maine lawmakers to create a public defender office. The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services recently put forth a plan to create such a service – our representatives in Augusta should expand upon the proposal to include all recommendations from experts at the Sixth Amendment Center, then pass that legislation as soon as possible.

Nat Jordan
Cape Elizabeth

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