On Monday, Maine Public Radio reported on allegations of denial of routine medical care at Maine State Prison in Warren, in the context of a lawsuit brought by the prison’s chapter of the NAACP against the private health care provider at the prison. The claims include medical services denied, substandard care and delayed treatment.

In November 2019, the state of Maine sounded the alarm about the surge of hepatitis C cases in our communities – 51 to date for that year. At the same time, the state was withholding treatment from 500 inmates infected with hepatitis C, a viral disease of the liver that can eventually lead to liver failure and death. A Maine inmate sued the Department of Corrections. Before the suit was settled, the department began instituting a new treatment program.

In July 2018, a year when hundreds of people died from opioid overdoses, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Maine Corrections Department for refusing an inmate access to his opioid addiction medication and won.

In keeping with a pattern of denying medical services to the men and women in its care, the state has refused to provide COVID-19 vaccine to inmates. This is in direct opposition to the advice given by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s own vaccination priorities.

Though the inmates are maintaining what is essentially an assisted living unit for dementia patients, the aged and infirm at Mountain View Correctional Facility in Charleston and a hospice program for the dying at Maine State Prison, no inmates have received vaccines. All prison and jail facilities are congregate housing situations, with no ability to socially distance. Because of the increased length of sentences and the elimination of parole, there are more aging prisoners in Maine’s system.

Some of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in Maine have been in prisons and jails. At York County Jail in Alfred, 48 inmates, 18 staff and 16 household members were infected. One inmate’s death was related to COVID-19. At Maine Correctional Center in Windham, over 150 people tested positive in November – approximately 40 percent of the inmate population at the time – with three people hospitalized. Outbreaks have occurred at Mountain View Correctional Center (one person died), Maine State Prison, Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, Franklin County Jail in Farmington, Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn, Penobscot County Jail in Bangor, Kennebec County Jail in Augusta and Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset. Outbreaks in prisons and jails threaten the communities outside the walls as much as they do the people inside, as demonstrated by the York County statistics.

Mental health issues already exacerbated by the isolation of prison have been multiplied by the lockdowns.

Ellen Grunblatt, M.D., who serves on the Board of Visitors for Franklin County Jail, has summed the situation up succinctly: “The unexamined ‘policy’ to exclude inmates from COVID immunization is irresponsible and inhumane. When we imprison people we become responsible for them. No one should be sentenced to lack of health care and the risk of transmitting a deadly disease, easily caught in a jail setting, back to their communities upon release. Maine can, and should, do better.”

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