Washington County judges release 100 non-violent inmates to lower jail population amid pandemic

Becky Campbell • Mar 23, 2020 at 8:19 PM

Approximately 100 non-violent inmates nearing their release date were recently sent home from the Washington County Detention Center to help thin the crowd of offenders in the facility amid a pandemic of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

Another step authorities have taken is to work on a policy on how to handle a viral pandemic.

“We’re following out standard emergency protocol right now,” Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen said. On Monday, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office taking non-emergency reports by phone to provide contact protection for officers and the public.

“We’ve stopped all in-person activity unless it’s a true emergency,” Laitinen said. As of last Friday, the detention center stopped all visitation, but inmates received a week’s notice so they could get a visit if possible.

Depending on how long the health pandemic lasts, the jail could set up video visitation.

Laitinen said one roadblock the sheriff’s office has faced — much like many in the community — is finding hand sanitizer for its officers. She was out on Saturday searching stores for the hot commodity. Laitinen said inmates have plenty of soap and hot water to keep their hands clean, but out in the field officers rarely have that opportunity.

Officers do have personal protective equipment, but she also wants to get hand sanitizer for them as well.

Other precautions the sheriff’s office has taken include:

• Temperature checks for anyone entering the building.
• If an inmate brought into booking has a fever, the inmate is isolated, and jail medical staff will conduct an assessment to determine if further action is needed.
• Asking incoming inmates about their travel history.
• Educating inmates on the importance of social distancing.
• Not conducting weekender jail sentences at this time.

“We’ve had three (arrestees) come in with a fever. One was released, the health department cleared one with a a cough and temperature and one is in jail in isolation,” she said. No inmate has met the criteria that would require them to be tested for COVID-19

One of Laitinen’s goals with the release of inmates was to clear out an entire pod that can be used as an isolation pod if necessary. With the judges granting early release of nearly 100 inmates, the jail population over the weekend was 558. The facility can hold 627 inmates.

Rob Reburn, spokesman for the Northeast Region of the Department of Correction, said all detention officers and probation officers are being screened before allowed into their work area. Employees are encourage to not work if they are allowed to work.

“Offenders are being issued non-alcohol hand sanitizer, the facilities are still operational, and programs conducted by our staff still ongoing,” Reburn said. Visitation has also been suspended as a safeguard from the virus getting into facilities.

“The inmates understand the severity of the situation ... they’re good about self policing themselves, for social distancing, he said.



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