Coronavirus is impacting every aspect of society, including jails.
Although Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange had already put a procedure in place to deal with coronavirus or COVID-19, they have since tightened the reins.
As of 3 p.m. on March 20, visitation and programming were halted. Jail superintendent Frank Dyer said legal visits also have been amended to no-contact only. Many attorneys are opting to use the jail’s video arraignment services allowing courts to speak to individuals remotely via video chat.
Dyer said the jail’s small sallyport (secure vehicle receiving area) has been turned into a medical triage area for those inmates entering the jail. Each inmate will be medically assessed prior to entering the booking area. They will then be housed in designated areas for a minimum of five days and be reassessed by medical staff before being placed in the general population. Those with symptoms will be provided a flu test.
If the test is negative, the on-cal doctor will be contacted for further instruction including orders to transport to the hospital or additional testing. An alternative housing area also has been established for inmates exhibiting systems who have not yet been tested or who have not yet had results confirmed. Disposal food service items will be utilized for those inmates.
A secure housing area has also been designated for those with a confirmed COVID-19 test result.
“This is not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when,’” Dyer said. “At some point in time, we will end up with an inmate that has it.”
Signs containing information regarding proper hygiene, virus symptoms and more have been placed throughout the jail facility and workers have been notified to stay home if feeling ill. Sanitation supplies have also been distributed throughout the facility and supplies and food are on-hand to last several months. The jail kitchen routinely stores enough food to last at least 60-90 days. Facility air exhaust fans are also being cycled at designated times throughout the day and inmate movement has been restricted.
Dyer said he plans to continue recreation while minimizing interaction and the commissary remains open. Inmates also still have the ability to make phone calls and send and receive mail. Personnel are also undergoing health checks by their supervisor prior to the start of their shift.
Meanwhile, Dyer said the jail has suspended all weekend or non-consecutive day sentences until the State of Emergency for Virginia is lifted. Those inmates at risk are also under review for sentencing and notification to the sentencing courts. Dyer said for non-violent offenders who don’t need to be in jail, the idea is to have them not in jail. He said the attorneys and judges he’s spoken with are all in agreement to not put additional strain on the jail system. Electronic monitoring does remain an option.
Dyer said those realistically considered are likely local inmates and probably only those with 30 days or less left in their sentence. For state inmates, the state would need to approve any changes and the same for federal prisoners which would require U.S. Marshall approval.
Madison County Commonwealth’s Attorney Clarissa Berry said her office has a list from the jail of those individuals awaiting trial that are being held with a bond who haven’t made it or those without a bond. She said her office is reviewing each case on an individual basis, but ultimately her main concern is the safety of the community.
“The overarching goal is to keep the community safe,” she said. “We’re working to make sure the public stays safe.”
Greene County Commonwealth’s Attorney Edwin “Win” Consolvo said his office is also reviewing and monitoring cases.
“We have, and are continuing to, review/monitor the Greene jail population and making appropriate recommendations as it relates to inmates pending trial and inmates who are currently serving local jail sentences,” he said. “We are open to various alternative outcomes for non-violent offenders and are working with the courts, clerks’offices, and defense attorneys to ensure that the health and safety of our community is preserved.”
Both attorneys said while home electronic monitoring is an alternative solution to incarceration, it can be a difficult one. It’s only used for non-violent offenders and requires a basic phone line, plus there are costs associated. Inmates have to pay to be on the program.
Berry and Consolvo said they do not currently have anyone on home electronic monitoring. Defendants who are being held should contact their attorney who can then communicate with the commonwealth’s attorney’s office. For those without attorneys, the status of a case can be checked online.
The governor suspended all non-essential, non-emergency proceedings through April 6. The governor has also instructed law enforcement to utilize summons versus traditional arrests when possible. Summons only apply to misdemeanor charges and are essentially an arrest without being taken into custody and having to appear before a magistrate.
Berry said it’s being used for non-violent offenses and nothing that would put the public at risk.
“We have good state police officers and good sheriff’s deputies,” she said. “It’s them using common sense on how to approach things.”