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County Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: County Jail and Correctional Facilities

  • County Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: County Jail and Correctional Facilities

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    County Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: County Jail and Correctional Facilities

    Counties operate 91 percent of the nation’s jails, where 10.6 million individuals cycle in and out of more than 3,000 local jails each year. Safety for justice-involved individuals, particularly in densely populated facilities such as jails, poses a significant challenge for counties during the COVID-19 outbreak. Many county jails have suspended in-person visitation and have started using phone and video conferencing to conduct necessary visits. Sheriffs and jail administrators have started to enact measures to implement social distancing in correctional facilities such as suspending programming and gatherings for individuals in custody and restricting movement between cell blocks.

    Sheriff’s offices are also providing personal protective equipment for staff and vendors interacting with individuals displaying COVID-19 symptoms and cleaning supplies to sanitize commonly used areas. Some counties have also started to depopulate their jails by working with the courts to release individuals close to their release date or who do not pose a threat to public safety.

    Buncombe County, N.C.

    The Buncombe County Detention Center has closed its lobby to the public to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and is only allowing essential sheriff’s office and detention staff into the facility. Arrested individuals have been screened for COVID-19 symptoms at booking since the beginning of March. Individuals in custody have been provided soap and oral hygiene products at no additional cost and disinfectant sprays and wipes are available to staff to sanitize common areas. The detention center has contingency plans to quarantine individuals in custody displaying COVID-19 symptoms away from the general population. In addition, the sheriff’s office is working with the county district court to release individuals with low-level, misdemeanor charges such as trespasses, larceny and probation violations. As of April, the county has released over 40 individualsthat meet these criteria.

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    Los Angeles County, Calif.

    In addition to county law enforcement reducing arrests for low-level, nonviolent offenses, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has begun releasing individuals from the jail to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in its facilities. Sheriff Alex Villanueva is using his authority to grant early release for individuals with less than 30 days left on their sentence and individuals awaiting trial for low-level, nonviolent offenses. As of mid-April, the sheriff has reduced the jail population by 25 percent, or 4,200 individuals. The county is also quarantining individuals who display COVID-19 symptoms away from the general population; individuals must test negative twice in order to return to the general population. Visitation has been suspended to reduce outside contact.

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    Sedgwick County, Kan.

    The jail’s health care provider has started monitoring and tracking suspected cases of flu-like symptoms of individuals in custody. The jail is quarantining individuals infected with COVID-19 and the health care provider is conducting daily, face-to-face medical reviews of all individuals in these units. The sheriff’s office is providing jail staff with N95 respirators when entering rooms with infected individuals. Linen and laundry from individuals infected with COVID-19 are treated as hazardous waste and disposed of in accordance with federal safety standards. Meals are delivered directly to individual cells or to beds in dorms to avoid large gatherings at mealtimes.

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    Addressing the health and safety of justice-involved individuals in custody and county staff in correctional facilities will remain a critical component to mitigating the short- and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In times of crisis, counties remain at the forefront of addressing pivotal challenges that affect justice and public safety in communities across the country. As the outbreak unfolds, it is important that counties continue to serve as resources for one another.

    Counties operate 91 percent of the nation’s jails, where 10.6 million individuals cycle in and out of more than 3,000 local jails each year.
    2020-05-20
    Reports & Toolkits
    2020-05-22

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