Lee County Jail to start accepting all inmates, roll back COVID-19 protocols

Reporter: Emma Heaton Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
FILE: Inmates in a jail. (Credit: WINK News)

Changes are coming to the Lee County Jail after a WINK News investigation found that the jail was still operating under COVID-19 protocols.

Since then, Fort Myers and Cape Coral police have both confirmed there’s a plan to start taking in more inmates before opening up completely.

On Friday, WINK News reported that officers were worried the jail wasn’t accepting some criminals accused of serious crimes.

For two plus years, police officers say they made arrest after arrest, only to see suspect after suspect back on the streets without spending a night in jail.

Now that the Lee County Jail is changing its policy, those same officers said they feel a sense of relief.

Every day and every night, police officers in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Sanibel respond to crimes and make arrests. When COVID-19 hit, the Lee County Jail, run by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, put in strict protocols to keep the jail population down.

In the last month, WINK News started to get message after message from officers upset that the COVID-19 restrictions were still in place.

“When the pandemic started, they started this policy. The jail has briefly relaxed restrictions from time to time but routinely refuses to allow the booking of most crimes,” said an anonymous officer.

The officers asked that WINK News protect their identities.

WINK News obtained an email written by a lieutenant at the jail dated August 25 that backed up their claim that COVID-19 restrictions were still in place.

Anyone arrested for domestic violence, DUI, or a violent felony would be accepted into the jail. The corrections watch commanders would determine the fate of most other arrestees.

“This soft on crime perception has led many victims of the community to question our ability to enforce the law to protect them and their property,” said an anonymous officer.

Since our initial report on Friday, the jail’s protocols have changed. Both Fort Myers and Cape Coral police say they will start to take arrestees suspected of a felony and a limited number of misdemeanors.

When WINK News reached out to the sheriff’s office to find out why the rules changed, no one answered phone calls or emails.

One officer did text WINK news saying they were notified at the end of the shift and that this is a great improvement.

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