Jail Safety During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we, as a society, operate in our daily lives. Sheriffs and their leadership have been especially affected due to the challenges operating a detention facility presents during the pandemic. Jails around the country have attempted multiple strategies to protect the inmate population, including isolation, testing, and early release programs. These options may not be available to every jail due to the availability of resources and jail sizes. Sheriffs and local leadership must work together to determine whether their facilities have the need and capability to implement new policies while the nation moves into the “reopening” stage of the pandemic. Below are several suggestions Sheriffs may consider when implementing new strategies to combat the virus within the jail walls.
Consider drafting an intake questionnaire and policy tailored specifically to COVID-19.
Jurisdictions have an intake form to be completed for each new arrestee that is presented to its facility. Sheriffs can work with local medical authorities to draft an intake questionnaire tailored specifically to COVID-19. Additionally, Sheriffs should consider implementing a policy dictating what to do in the event the results of the questionnaire raise suspicion that the individual may be infected. This can include seeking medical assistance, requiring use of personal protective equipment for the inmate, quarantine within the jail, or contracting with another jail to take the inmate.
Conduct the intake process outside the jail facility.
“Social distancing” can be utilized in a jail facility but, due to size and safety constraints, this requires thinking outside of the box. Sheriffs can consider conducting as much of the intake process in the sally port or other large secured area instead of at the intake desk. This option requires some coordination, such as requiring an arresting officer to remain in the patrol car with the arrestee until it is time to begin.
Limit exposure from sources other than inmates.
COVID-19 does not discriminate in who contracts the virus. Any person entering the jail facility may be a carrier of it, including officers, detention staff, vendors, and visitors of the jail. Sheriffs may consider implementing policies and programs that limit direct contact with individuals within the jail facility. This may include video conferencing instead of in person visitation, not allowing vendors to enter the jail when making deliveries, and requiring personal protective equipment for anyone who is inside of the facility.
Protect jail staff.
A jail cannot operate if a significant number of staff are infected with COVID-19. Requiring the use of personal protective equipment may lower the risk of exposure for the jail staff. Additionally, the health of jail staff needs to be constantly monitored. If an employee presents COVID-19 symptoms, Sheriffs should consider not allowing that individual in the jail facility until local medical authorities are consulted. Additionally, employees who are at risk if exposed to COVID-19 may be transferred to another department under the Sheriff. Our employment law practice group offers blog posts discussing what an employer can do in these situations and these posts can be found here.
Keeping everyone in the jail up to date on the current status of the pandemic is essential for safety and cooperation. Building trust with the inmate population begins with keeping them informed on the status of COVID-19 within the jail and what the administration is doing to protect them, their families, and jail personnel.
Every jail does not have the same urgency or capability to implement the suggestions above, and our team at Teague Campbell can help tailor a plan to fit your jurisdiction’s needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Feel free to give us a call.
This update provides general information and does not provide tailored legal advice or establish an attorney-client relationship.