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WABI - Millions of dollars in funding will be coming to counties and municipalities through the American Rescue Act.

Dozens of community organizations in Penobscot County are joining together to call for investments in chronic and worsening problems in the region.

“A lot of times, the most vulnerable are the ones who are given the last thought.” says Sean Faircloth, Executive Director of Together Place. “That’s why this coalition has united, and come together. So we are all for one and one for all.”

What may be the largest collaboration ever of community organizations in Penobscot County was announced in Bangor Thursday morning near Pickering Square. The group is over 30 organizations strong.

There were 173 inmates in the jail on Tuesday with an additional 42 boarded out at other facilities, according to Sheriff Troy Morton. He also said that 196 defendants awaiting trial were being supervised in the community by Maine Pretrial Services, a private firm.

The Maine Department of Corrections, which licenses county jails, has given the sheriff until mid-November to get the population down to 157 or risk losing its license.

Overcrowding and a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the jail shut down intake at the facility, forcing local law enforcement to bail arrestees from police stations or to ask jails in adjacent counties to take in all but the most violent offenders, Brewer Public Safety Director Jason Moffitt told commissioners Tuesday.

Moffitt and every member of the Brewer City Council attended Tuesday’s county commissioners meeting to demand that the county solve the overcrowding problem at the jail quickly.

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MAINE BEACON - A letter sent last week by inmates in the Penobscot County Jail to a local advocacy group and provided to Beacon alleges that the jail is violating inmates’ rights through inhumane quarantine policies, poor COVID-19 precautions among staff, lack of timely medical care, inconsistency in access to basic supplies and threats of retaliation against inmates, many of whom have been at the jail for multiple months because of delayed trials.

The letter, originally received and transcribed by the group No Penobscot County Jail Expansion, was handwritten by several inmates in the jail and signed by a total of 23 people incarcerated at the facility. Beacon is not publishing the names of those who signed due to concerns from inmates about retaliation. However, using online rosters, Beacon was able to confirm 20 out of 23 names on the letter, although not all those who signed were still incarcerated at Penobscot County Jail at the time this article was published. In addition, Garrytte Davis, a signee of the letter who was recently incarcerated at Penobscot County Jail and who agreed to speak with Beacon on the record, said two of the other people who signed have since been released, adding that he believes it’s likely the third person was as well.

The letter illustrates the negative impact COVID-19 protocols are having on incarcerated populations, particularly at a facility where there were previously complaints about medical care and other conditions. Under the pandemic, conditions have not only worsened, according to inmates, but the length of time that many are being held at the jail has been extended, sometimes by months.

In a response to questions from Beacon, Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, who oversees the jail, pushed back against allegations raised in the letter. The sheriff did acknowledge some of the claims made by the inmates, but defended the overall conditions in the facility.

A history of dysfunction

Beacon spoke with multiple people who said the allegations in the letter dovetail with what they have experienced at the jail. Davis, who recently got out of Penobscot County Jail (PCJ) after spending 40 days there for allegedly violating his bail conditions, said the details in the letter reflect dire conditions occurring in the facility.

“The conditions of PCJ, they’re so harsh,” Davis said, adding that he has requested in the past to serve a full sentence in prison rather than spend any more time at PCJ.

Doug Dunbar, who was incarcerated at PCJ in late 2017 and early 2018, said the details of the letter, which he reviewed, match what he saw at the facility when he was detained there. Dunbar arrived at the jail after a 30-year career in government, including working as press secretary for former Gov. John Baldacci and serving as Maine’s chief deputy secretary of state.

“Penobscot County Jail is dysfunctional and too many employees have acted in ways that are both inappropriate and harmful,” he said.

Another former detainee at the facility, Breann Bear, spoke about conditions in the jail at a Penobscot County Commissioners’ meeting Tuesday morning in which multiple members of No Penobscot County Jail Expansion mentioned the inmates’ letter and expressed concerns with how the facility is being run.

“I was blatantly denied the right to mental health [care] three years ago in 2018 while I was incarcerated in PCJ,” Bear said. “I can’t imagine what people are going through right now when the threat of COVID is looming over their heads.”

Multiple members of No Penobscot County Jail Expansion also spoke to Beacon on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution from jail officials. In those conversations, they confirmed that many of the details in the letter are complaints they had heard from inmates at PCJ even before receiving the letter.