AR: mitigating COVID-19 spread in jails; Benton & Washington have infected inmates


ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Trying to keep COVID-19 from spreading in confined areas is a challenge. Several settings are not designed for social distancing — such as prisons or jails.

In Arkansas, many counties have created some of their own guidelines at jails to keep COVID-19 spread at bay, while at the same time adhering to the Centers for Disease Control recommendations.

BENTON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE: KNWA/FOX24 is awaiting an answer regarding COVID-19 protocol with inmates and employees. This jail now has reported multiple cases of the virus.

CARROLL COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE: If the inmate/detainee screens positive and placed in quarantine, they are supplied with a mask. On a voluntary basis, if an inmate/detainee requests one from the medical department, one will be provided. Currently, as of June 16, there are no COVID-19 cases at the facility. – Per Major Jerry Williams.

FRANKLIN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE: We recently held a meeting with officials from the city of Ozark and the city of Charleston to lay out the groundwork for taking arrestees. Also in attendance and mediating the meeting was Mr. Sterling Penix, director of Arkansas Jail Standards and Mr. Jeff Phillips, Prosecuting Attorney for the 5th Judicial District. We are limiting the number of arrestees that we are taking and we have about 10 charges that we are allowing into the facility. We are taking all violent felony offenses, including murder, rape, any type of felony assault, burglaries, and thefts and on the misdemeanor side, we are taking DWI offenses and all misdemeanor batteries and assaults where a no-contact order might be issued by the judge. We are also holding those deemed to be a danger to themselves, those who need mental health screenings. We are working hand-in-hand with both the circuit and district courts to move as many people as possible through the system through bond hearings or cite and release charges. Any person brought into the facility has their temperature taken and must answer a list of questions related to COVID exposure. Any person kept after their initial intake is taken to a quarantine cell that contains 12 separate individual cells. These persons are quarantined for 14 days and monitored unless they post bond and are released. Upon completion of the 14-day quarantine, they are moved to the general population based on an assessment of their crimes. We are working closely with other law enforcement agencies, the court system, and probation and parole. We keep in mind that the safety of the public is paramount when deciding who can be admitted to the detention center at this time. We also have an obligation to keep the staff and current inmates in the detention center safe.  Inmates who are heading for quarantine have masks. Masks are optional for the employees at this time. – Per Detention Center Administrator Jimmy Dorney.

MADISION COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE: This agency is more of an inmate holding location. People who are arrested and booked and usually sent to the Washington County Detention Center within 24 hours. The jail population can be three to four to none. When a person is arrested or brought to the facility, their temperature is taken, COVID-19 related questions are asked, such as if they have a persistent cough. There are eight dispatchers, two on shifts at all times. The facility has, so far, been COVID-19 free. – Sgt. Mitchell.

PULASKI COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE: Currently there are no confirmed cases at the jail as of Tuesday, June 16. Employees check temperatures twice daily, have inmates fill out a questionnaire, and do additional screenings when inmates enter the facility. Detainees and employees are wearing face masks. In mid-April, a group volunteered and made masks for the detention center.

Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office: The county has a 16-page guideline titled, “Emergency COVID-19 Policy,” which was written in May. There are at least 14 requirements that cover staff shortages, screenings, PPE, housing positive or presumptive positive COVID-19 inmates, training education, hygiene, laundry, and social distancing to name a few. Additional protocols include not transporting people from areas that are considered hot spots. “If we have to transport someone, from another county to here, the person will quarantine in a negative air pressure pod for 14 days and the nursing staff clears them before the person is sent to the general population.” – Per Sgt. Eddie Smith

WASHINGTON COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE: Washington County Detention Center provides face coverings for inmates. No additional details were mentioned for testing inmates or employees at the jail. As of Wednesday, the jail has at least 15 inmates who have tested positive for the virus. The inmate population as of Wednesday, June 17, is 402.

1st COVID-19 positive tests at Benton County jail; employee & inmate

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