Morgan jail releases nonviolent inmates to protect against COVID-19
By Marian Accardi
For the Enquirer
The Morgan County Jail has released 107 nonviolent inmates in the last month in its effort to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, joining other area jails in its effort to reduce viral transmission.
“We began looking at reducing our population on March 16 based on information and guidance we were reviewing from other states that had already been dealing with COVID-19,” said Mike Swafford, a spokesman for the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office. “Any inmates we have looked at releasing have been nonviolent,” such as child support, failure-to-appear and failure-to-pay cases.
“The first 10 were released on March 17,” Swafford said.
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Alabama was March 13.
The Morgan County Jail population on March 16 was about 640, according to Swafford. The Sheriff’s Office began reaching out to municipal, district and circuit court judges to review their rosters of cases to see if there were any warranted releases.
“We supplied additional lists of any inmates that had medical issues that we were aware of,” he said.
The Morgan County Jail still has no cases of COVID-19, according to Swafford.
He said Decatur police on Sunday arrested an individual for disorderly conduct who was positive for COVID-19. Swafford said the individual was quarantined upon arrival until released on an OR (own recognizance) bond.
“They did not come into contact with any other inmates and never moved beyond booking,” he said, and the area was immediately disinfected.
The jail has been closed to visitors and instructors, and housing protocols were also implemented that keep new inmates separate from existing inmates.
COVID-19 guidance for correctional facilities provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Alabama Department of Public Health and National Sheriff’s Association are being followed, and “we continue to look at new COVID-19 developments and (are) adjusting our procedures almost daily,” Swafford said. “Additionally, we continue to disinfect the facility and continue screening all that enter the facility.”
The CDC last week recommended wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain, especially in areas of significant community-based transmission. The CDC also advises the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may not know they are infected from transmitting it to others.
“Due to that change, our correction officers now wear a mask anytime they interact with inmates,” Swafford said. “This is an additional step to protect the inmates.”
Swafford said an investigator and deputy were tested due to a possible exposure.
“In both cases they immediately went into self-isolation pending the results of their test,” he said. “Thankfully both tests have come back negative for COVID-19.”
An order by Gov. Kay Ivey allows county jails to reduce the number of inmates “in a way that does not jeopardize public safety.” It authorizes the release of probation and parole violators who have been in jail for 20 or more days without a hearing, unless the probation and parole violations are based on new criminal charges.