Jails and prisons across the U.S. are struggling to figure out how to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
In the federal prison system, all inmates are confined to their cells for two weeks.
In some states, like California, inmates due for parole are being released early.
We look at jails in Southwest Florida to see how they’re trying to keep deputies and inmates safe.
Social distancing can be a challenge anywhere, but especially in a jail.
It appears to be working in Collier County with just two inmates having symptoms currently being tested – and no corrections deputies having the virus.
Chris Roberts is the chief of corrections with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. he syas, “It’s our responsibility to keep those inmates and the folks that work here in the jail, deputies and other arresting agencies that have officers coming in and out of the jails safe from this virus.”
It’s all part of good planning by Chief Roberts and his team.
“We came up with a new protocol to screen inmates when they come into the jail to make sure they weren’t symptomatic,” Robers added.
And the risk was lowered by letting some inmates out. According to Chief Roberts, local courts reviewed the status of some inmates and let out a small number a few weeks ago.
But that does not mean a free pass. People are still being arrested.
He explained that “Obviously, a violent criminal, we can’t really fix that in the community with a notice to appear.”
The jail is isolating all new prisoners and they have plans in place in case there is an outbreak. They are also prepared to work backward if someone tests positive to find anyone else that could be at risk.
The chief said, “We are still in charge of keeping our community safe and take that seriously. So we’ve got a plan that allows sufficient space in the jail to make sure that folks in collier county that try and prey on other people or do something during this crisis. We have a place for them.”
Collier County is fortunate to have more beds than inmates, which gives Roberts’ team some leeway.
For now, he has stopped all visits unless its an emergency and is providing additional free phone usage and virtual visits for the inmates.
We reached out to all jails in Southwest Florida about what policies they are putting in place, and if they have any cases of COVID-19.
Both Lee and Glades counties say they don’t have any cases among its inmates or staff.