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Precautions help keep jail virus-free

LISBON — While the federal prison in Elkton is having its problems stopping the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the Columbiana County Jail is faring much better.

Warden Tom Mackie reported Thursday not a single inmate or employee has tested positive for the virus.

“Hopefully, it will remain that way,” he said.

Some of it is luck, but Mackie believes a bigger reason for their good fortune is because judges and local law enforcement took steps immediately to lower the inmate population, and it is paying off. The inmate population has decreased from 164 a month ago to 87.

Nearly four weeks ago, the judges ordered all trials be continued and began reviewing current cases to determine which inmates who were closed to finishing their sentences could be released early. Only people convicted of misdemeanor crimes are sentenced to the county jail, while some accused felons are held there until convicted and sentenced to a state prison.

Meanwhile, local law enforcement was asked to arrest only those suspected of committing violent crimes, such as assault, aggravated menacing and domestic violence or violence-related property crimes, such as robbery, burglary and breaking and entering.

Everyone else who is charged with a lesser crime is issued a summons to appear in court at a future date instead of being arrested on the spot and taken to the county jail. Those who are arrested and taken to jail are released the next day on bond following arraignment by video.

This has resulted in the 47 percent drop in the inmate population.

Mackie said those serving a sentence for a non-violent misdemeanor offenses with little time left are being released early, while a few other inmates are being released depending on their circumstances but ordered to return on a certain date to serve the remainder of their sentences. Imposition of sentences enacted before the crisis have been delayed.

The jail is licensed to hold close to 200 inmates, and Mackie said because of how the jail is configured they have 94 cells to use for isolation if an inmate starts to exhibits symptoms. This means each inmate will have their own cell if they can continue to keep a lid on the number of inmates.

“Everyone (in the general population) right now has their own cell,” Mackie said, and he would like to keep that it way by keeping the inmate numbers as close to 80 as possible.,

Whenever a new inmate does arrive and is not released on bond they are quarantined for up to 14 days in one of the four cells in the holding area. If symptom free after that, the inmate is moved to a regular cell.

Mackie said staff temperatures are taken when they show up for their shift, and inmate temperatures are being taken three times per day. Inmates are also tested with a device called a finger-pulse Oximeter that measures blood oxygen saturation.

Arriving inmates are also asked a series of questions to determine if they have been exposed to anyone who has been infected. All visitations ended four weeks ago so the inmates do not come into contact with anyone from the outside other than jail staff.

Mackie said they are having problems getting masks for staff and inmates but that is expected to change. The jail was able to obtain several sewing machines, and some of the female inmates have offered to make the masks from material being donated by a local business.

tgiambroni@mojonews.com

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