Jails releasing some non-violent inmates to battle COVID-19 spread

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Governor Eric Holcomb is asking counties jails to use their own discretion in releasing non-violent offenders from their jails to help battle the COVID-19 spread. Some counties have already begun.

“We were just trying to think outside the box of what we could do,” explains Putnam County Sheriff Scott Stockton who met with judges and magistrates three weeks ago to put protocols in place to release certain non-violent offenders, “There’s a lot that goes into it. It’s not just the offense or the level of offense, it’s the actual individual.”

Every Monday the judges get a list of possible release candidates. It’s cut the jail numbers by 40%.

“There’s different monitoring systems, ankle bracelets, sober link,” Sheriff Stock says, describing the ways inmates are monitored when on release.

Putnam County has refitted the airflow system in the jail and has three blocks set aside for quarantine. Sheriff Stockton hired a medical service to check inmates’ temperatures daily and is giving them vitamins and orange juice to boost their immune systems.

The work release program is suspended in the county, so inmates don’t leave the jail to work and bring the virus back in. They have also made one van responsible for all inmate transports in the county regardless of agency. It’s cleaned with bleach after each run.

“It’s bad enough a worldwide pandemic, but if it gets into the jails we will be in dire straits,” acknowledges Sheriff Stockton.

A week after Putnam County started releasing non-violent offenders, so did Johnson County. Sheriff Duane Burgess isn’t allowing anyone with an illness inside the jail.

“It’s an unknown right now what’s going to occur in our society with COVID-19, and it scares everybody,” Sheriff Burgess remarks.

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