Dozens of inmates and staff at the York County Jail were infected with COVID-19. One inmate died. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Jan M. Collins is the assistant director of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition.

On Monday, the Bangor Daily News and Maine Public reported on allegations of the denial of routine medical care at the Maine State Prison. The accusations include medical services denied, substandard care, delayed treatment and a wrongful death suit.

In October 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 alleged to be 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 of 2018, a year when hundreds of people died from opioid overdoses, the ACLU sued the Maine Department of Corrections 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 not provided COVID-19 vaccine to inmates. This is in direct opposition to the advice given by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state’s own vaccination priorities.

Despite maintaining an “assisted living unit” for dementia patients, the aged and infirm at Mountain View Correctional Facility, 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 social distance. Due to increased length of sentence 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, 48 inmates, 43 staff and 16 household members were infected. One inmate’s death was related to COVID-19. At Maine Correctional Center, over 150 people tested positive, with three people hospitalized. Cases have occurred at Mountain View correctional Center (where one person died), Maine State Prison, Long Creek Youth Correctional Facility, Franklin County Jail, Androscoggin County Jail, Penobscot County Jail, Kennebec County Jail and Two Bridges Jail. Outbreaks in prisons and jails threaten the communities outside the walls as much as 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, MD, 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.”