FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Washington Co. Jail continued to increase its detainee intake Tuesday, and COVID-19 numbers increased, too. Decisionmakers are balancing public and detainee safety as the pandemic proves its longevity.
Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell said the uptick in intakes is related to people going out more with rolled-back COVID-19 restrictions. The jail reported nine COVID-19 cases Monday, going up to 19 on Tuesday.
“With an uptick in the jail population, we’re not surprised to see an uptick in COVID cases,” Cantrell said. “We had nine yesterday, and today we’ve got new reports saying we’ve got 10 new ones.”
The uptick in cases comes as the county’s criminal justice system rolls back some protocols made to thin out the jail population.
“We have to make sure those people that we’re releasing are individuals the community is comfortable with us releasing,” said Matt Durrett, the county’s prosecuting attorney.
Durrett said this goes back to Pea Ridge Officer Kevin Apple’s death. Durrett said the woman who ran over and killed Apple was out at the time because of these COVID-related rollbacks. She was given a citation without being booked in, called a “roadside release.” Officers didn’t know she had a number of pending cases.
Durrett said roadside releases have been eliminated.
“They were releasing [her] pursuant to the guidelines I’d sent out,” Durrett said.
Durrett said he’s not sure if eliminating roadside releases will prevent another catastrophe, but he thinks it’s a good step to take. Cantrell said the move allows law enforcement officials to gain more information about possible serious offenders.
“To Matt’s point, if they do come to jail for processing, we’re able to gather more information,” Cantrell said. “We’re able to get a photograph of them. We’re able to get fingerprints if we didn’t have them before.”
With COVID-19 cases more than doubling overnight, Cantrell said he anticipates further changes will take longer to implement. About 55% of the detainee population has been vaccinated, Cantrell said, and jail officials are considering vaccine incentives to encourage more to get the vaccine.
“I don’t know exactly what that’ll be, whether that’s a Coke and a candy bar or some perk we can offer here in the jail,” Cantrell said. “We’re talking about ideas maybe to get that number increased.”