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What are we getting for the millions we spend on the Middle River Regional Jail?

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Inmates at the Middle River Regional Jail are being deprived of their 15-minute weekly visit from the outside because of a low number of COVID cases among inmates and staff.

The jail on Friday reported that 10 of the 760+inmates and 13 from among the nearly 200-person staff had tested positive for COVID, as the justification for an ongoing 30-day lockdown that had been announced on Jan. 4.

The weekly visits are gone, and inmate programs are also being shuttered, with the jail set to revisit the situation on Feb. 3.

The omicron variant is much more contagious than previous COVID strains, so it would seem to be incumbent to make sure to stick to the letter of procedures involving masks and distancing as much as possible.

We’d all be a host better off if COVID vaccination rates locally were better. According to the jail, less than 50 percent of the current inmate population is vaccinated, and among the 13 staffers who were isolating at home as of Friday, only seven were vaccinated.

Preventing further spread of COVID in the jail is an important physical health issue. A mental health issue at stake here is key to the response from MRRJ Superintendent Jeffery Newton.

Visits from family and friends give inmates something to look forward to, keeping them connected with the outside world; inmate programs are important avenues to helping deal with substance abuse and other behavioral life issues.

Just simply cutting inmates off from those touchstones feels punitive, and downright lazy, on the part of the jail administration.

Local taxpayers spend millions of dollars a year on these facilities, and we’re about to be asked to spend millions more to make them even bigger.

It’s time we start asking, what are we getting for our never-ending investment?

It’s gotta be more than what we’re seeing here.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press