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Jail Population Shrinking Due to COVID-19

Updated: May 2

by Atlanta Northcutt- Reporter for the Southern Standard

Jail numbers are shrinking and precautions are being taken to reduce the risk of COVID-19 for the inmate population.

A screening is performed on every individual entering Warren County Jail. The individuals are asked questions recommended by the CDC regarding symptoms related to COVID-19.

“Everyone receives a physical exam when they come in,” says Major Jason Walker. “Since we were able to get early releases and lowered bonds by the court system for nonviolent offenders, we have room to quarantine those who first enter the jail so they are kept away from the total inmate population. We have some cells we were able to free up. If they can’t make bond, we put them in a single cell to remain isolated.”

According to Knox News, the extension order includes the same list of exceptions designed to reduce jail populations, allowing plea hearings for detainees whose agreements would free them and bond reduction hearings to be held for those too poor to post bail.

“All of us, including the sheriff, judge and others, work to see if there are people who could be released early,” says District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis. “We’ve continuously been doing so with some who are not violent or dangerous being put on ankle monitors. However, other inmates who are more hazardous to the community must remain incarcerated.”

“We can’t guarantee anything,” adds Zavogiannis. “We don’t know what any of these people are going to do, but we’re hoping for the best in order to minimize the inmates.”

On Monday, the inmate population was 172. The maximum capacity of Warren County Jail is 251, which has previously been exceeded. There are currently 140 men and 32 women in the jail.

Walker states no inmates have currently complained about experiencing any symptoms of coronavirus.

“Most of the inmates were in the jail before this pandemic started and haven’t had any contact with people from outside besides staff,” says Walker. “The staff is following the stay-at-home order when not at work, as well as social distancing and wearing protective equipment, such as N95 masks, gloves and glasses when going into the cells, and we just had 32 face shields donated today.”

The jail is continuously being cleaned and sanitized.

“We are taking all of the steps recommended by the CDC and Tennessee Department of Corrections to ensure the inmates’ and staff’s safety.”

The front lobby is currently closed to all visitors, but an option of allowing video visitations from private residences are available.

New individuals who are booked into the jail are quarantined for 14 days before being allowed to enter general population. If symptoms are discovered, the inmates are taken to St. Thomas River Park Hospital to be tested. Walker states no inmates have been taken to the hospital due to COVID-19.

“Right now, we’re doing everything we can do to protect everyone by screening staff and new individuals entering the jail, and isolating those new inmates for the incubation period of 14 days upon CDC recommendations,” says Walker. “Once that time period is up, and no symptoms are shown after the quarantine, they can be put into general population.”

Employees are having limited contact with the inmates. Only the correction officers are coming in, and all employees are screened each day as they enter the building. If there are any symptoms, they are sent home.

“Everything is a day-to-day process,” adds Walker. “We are in constant contact with the jail doctor who is updating us and reporting the status of the inmates. We also have meetings with all of the state prisons and the head of the TDOC to gain information and recommendations on what to do during an online web conference once a week.”

“We’re protecting the citizens and defendants as much as we can under the circumstances,” adds Zavogiannis. “I’m really proud of this community. Everyone’s working together for the most beneficial and safe outcome.”

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