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

LEWISTON — Sheriffs in Androscoggin and Oxford counties in the past two weeks have used their legal authority to reduce the number of inmates serving sentences to free up jail space.

Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson said Thursday that he has freed two inmates who had two weeks or less left on their sentences. A third had been identified as a good candidate, but a judge in the meantime had reduced that inmate’s sentence.

The jail’s population dropped from the mid-150s to 130 a couple of weeks earlier through combined efforts of the sheriff allowing for early release of sentenced inmates, prosecutors revisiting bail and law enforcement officers issuing summonses instead of making arrests in some cases.

In some cases, defendants have been sentenced but have been allowed to report to jail at a later time.

Samson said he and jail supervisor Maj. Jeffrey Chute started two weeks ago to review the cases of convicted inmates who had two weeks or less to serve.

That first week, they identified five inmates who fit those criteria for early release.

“Of those, we determined two were appropriate for that kind of release,” he said. They didn’t appear to pose a risk to the community, he said.

He and Chute would look at the inmate’s charge or charges as well as their criminal history. None convicted of a violent crime were released.

The inmate’s behavior behind bars also was considered.

“We thoroughly review” each case, he said.

The other three inmates didn’t meet the parameters he and Chute had set, Samson said.

The next week, no inmates fit the criteria.

This week, they identified a likely candidate, but a judge had already reduced that inmate’s sentence, rendering any action on their part unnecessary.

Samson said he’d hoped to have identified more inmates for early release, but most of the jail population is being held on bail. Only about 35 inmates are serving sentences, he said.

Meanwhile, the jail has adopted a stringent booking intake process in an effort to keep the coronavirus at bay.

Everyone brought to the jail is given a lengthy questionnaire and is examined for signs of infection, including checking for fever.

If any risk factors are identified, those in custody are given masks to wear and are put in a quarantine area for up to 10 days. Five inmates were being housed in that area Thursday, Samson said. After that time, the isolated inmates are released into the general population, if they have displayed no symptoms.

None of the jail’s inmates have had the necessary symptoms or risk factors to trigger testing for the coronavirus, he said.

Samson said he’d like to lower the inmate population even more because it would provide more flexibility in staffing and housing in the event of an epidemic within the jail.

At the same time, he’s being judicious.

“I think we’ve set reasonable parameters to use this law and we’re using it with caution,” he said.

Oxford County Sheriff Christopher Wainwright said Thursday that he has ordered the early release of two inmates sentenced for nonviolent crimes from Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, where his county’s sentenced inmates are housed.

Another inmate who had less than two weeks to serve had been sentenced on a charge of domestic violence assault, had multiple convictions within the past two years and had violated protection orders.

“Obviously, he wasn’t a good candidate to be released early,” Wainwright said.

He, like Samson, has taken additional measures to work with police chiefs in his county to reduce arrests when possible and to release those who are safe to return to the community in an effort to minimize the jail population in Paris, he said.

“We’ve done the best we could to get people out,” he said.


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