Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton speaks to members of the Milford community on Aug. 3, 2021. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

The Penobscot County Jail is closed to all but the most violent new arrestees due to a COVID-19 outbreak among inmates and staff. That’s forcing law enforcement agencies to travel instead to jails in Ellsworth, Belfast and Dover-Foxcroft.

The Bangor jail closed to most new arrestees last week after the outbreak was detected, Sgt. Jason Raymond, a corrections officer, said Monday. Nearly two dozen inmates and employees had tested positive in the outbreak as of early last week.

The Cumberland County Jail closed last week due to a similar coronavirus outbreak and staff shortages.

The Penobscot County Jail also closed to new arrestees last winter, in late February and early March, due to an outbreak.

Sheriff Troy Morton sent out an email midweek to all the law enforcement agencies in the county telling them that the jail was not booking arrestees until further notice, Raymond said.

The sheriff urged officers to issue court summonses and to bail arrestees from police stations whenever possible, the sergeant said. People who must be taken to a jail by law, including those arrested on domestic violence charges, have to be transported to facilities in Hancock, Piscataquis or Waldo counties if there is room for them.

Police chiefs in Greater Bangor did not immediately return a request for comment on how the jail closure is affecting their departments due to Monday being a holiday. Earlier this year, law enforcement officials said having to transport inmates long distances was a further strain on their resources.

“Unfortunately, we still encounter situations where people don’t have bail money or aren’t allowed to bail per an arrest warrant,” Sgt. Wade Betters of the Bangor Police Department, said in March. “Those cases, along with domestic violence assault arrests, are further taxing police resources.”