Washington County Jail implements new directives for booking during COVID-19 outbreak


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — As COVID-19 cases keep going up in Northwest Arkansas, the Washington County criminal justice system continues to look for ways to release non-violent inmates. New directives were implemented to keep some from coming to the jail in the first place.

In the past couple weeks, the sheriff’s office released hundreds of inmates with the intent to prevent a massive outbreak if COVID-19 penetrated the jail’s walls.

“It’s an ongoing process where they’re gonna do this from here until we’re in the clear,” said Matt Durrett, the county’s prosecuting attorney.

There’s a new directive in place that’ll lessen the chance an infected person gets picked up by police, Durrett said.

“Where it’s possible, we’re avoiding them being taken into this jail and booked in by being processed at the scene and then released with a court date,” Durrett said.

Those targeted in this directive include low-level felony charges. Minor drug offenses, forgeries and property crimes are included in that, Durrett said.

Thinning out the population’s opened up spots in the jail to be blocked off in case people show symptoms, said Jay Cantrell, chief deputy for the sheriff’s office.

“We have some isolation cells for people who develop a fever while they’re in here,” Cantrell said. “So, we have some isolation and segregation areas set aside.”

The sheriff’s office plans to target even more inmates for release, Cantrell said.

“We’ve got a group of people in here on parole violations,” Cantrell said. “We’re working closely with the parole board to try to see if any of those people can be [targeted and] that parole hold be lifted.”

Though jail overpopulation has been a problem for several years, these directives were put in place to protect people, Durrett said, not reduce overcrowding. It’ll take a while to know their effectiveness and if they could be permanently installed after the outbreak.

“It’s too early to see if this is something that’ll be extended,” Durrett said. “We’ll have to see what kind of impact it has on the jail at this point.”

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