According to Loudoun County Sheriff Michael L. Chapman, there have been no cases of COVID-19 the county jail so far—and people in the criminal justice system are working to keep it that way.
Institutional settings like jails have proven a dangerous place for viral outbreaks, with the coronavirus spreading rapidly wherever people are kept crowded together.
In response to questions from Loudoun NAACP President Michelle Thomas and immediate past president Phillip Thompson, Chapman said the jail this week has fewer people in it, and fewer people coming in and out.
The Sheriff’s Office has begun moving inmates enrolled in the work release program, which has them going in and out of the jail on a daily basis, to house arrest instead—keeping them out of the jail entirely.
“Many of these inmates rely on the income of their jobs to help their families with bills and financial obligations,” Chapman wrote by email. “This is a win-win for both the inmates and the Adult Detention Center. This will allow the inmates to continue to maintain their jobs, but will eliminate the inmates that leave the facility and may come into contact with a potential carrier, then return to the facility possibly exposing many others.”
Additionally, Chapman said during the Loudoun NAACP’s happy hour virtual meeting with elected officials and the community on Monday, the number of inmates in the jail has dropped from 344 a month ago to around 270 now. He attributed that also to less crime occurring as people stay at home, and to magistrates and judges exercising their judgment about whether to lock people up.
Inmate visits, volunteer programs and tours of the jail have all been canceled, visits with family members have been moved online with tablet computers, and lawyers are meeting clients in no-contact rooms. Meanwhile, the courts have stepped up the use of Court TV, allowing defendants to appear in court on a video screen rather than be transported back and forth between the courthouse and jail.
And inmates entering the jail, after their normal 48 to 72 hours of quarantine, move to an extended 12 to 14 days of observation before they join the general population. If they show flu-like symptoms, they are moved to one of the jail’s two negative-pressure rooms, a technology similar to that used in some hospital rooms to prevent potentially airborne pathogens from leaving the room. Those inmates still have access to amenities like television, telephones and tablets.
During the NAACP’s virtual meeting Monday, Thomas pushed Chapman to keep doing more—and pushed back on some of his assertions, such as that “as many precautions as we have going on in the [Adult Detention Center], I don’t know if you serve that much of a purpose allowing people out when they’re actually safer inside, in many cases.”
“I greatly disagree,” Thomas said. “That is to say that everybody that is in jail is precariously housed or something. There are people that have loving families, they can’t wait to get back to resuming their normal life, and they are waiting for their relatives to come back. And not only are they willing to receive them, they’ve got the means to take care of them.”