Jail, corrections make adjustments in pandemicApril 14, 2020
By CANDY NEAL
Implementing the practices health officials have recommended in light of the COVID-19 pandemic is easier if a person has the space and freedom to move around.
It’s a little more challenging in confined areas like the county’s security center and community corrections buildings, where people must complete their sentences.
“It’s a stepping stone process,” Dubois County Sheriff Tom Kleinhelter said. “We can’t enforce the whole social distancing. But we’re doing as much as we can.”
The process of new inmates coming into the security center has changed. “We keep new inmates separated from the old inmates who were here before all this took place,” Kleinhelter said.
Some cellblocks have been cleared out to house the newer inmates. When one comes in, he or she stays in a holding cell for about three days. “Instead of the normal one day, we’re keeping them separated for three days,” Kleinhelter said. “If they’re not showing any signs, we move them to one of the cellblocks we’ve cleared out.”
Those that have come into the jail within four or five days of each other are housed in the same cellblock. They stay there for two weeks.
“If they’re still showing no signs or symptoms, then we’re moving them into the general population,” Kleinhelter said.
People who would normally come in to do classes and programs are not allowed in anymore. “We’ve eliminated all outside people coming in,” he said. “We’re doing no programming at this point, or anything like that.”
People are still able to use the video calling system, since that does not involve an outside person coming into the jail. The video phones on site are in the security center’s lobby.
The staff has always had access to masks and gloves to use on the job. “We’re not requiring them to use them,” Kleinhelter said. “That’s a decision I’m allowing them to make. Some do; some don’t.”
All staff members have their temperatures taken each day, however. “If they have a temperature (fever), we’re not allowing them in,” he said. “And we’re trying to enforce what we can as far as social distancing for the staff.”
Next door at community corrections, participants who sleep there have been spread out more so that there is enough space in between their bunks, Director Megan Durlauf said.
“So far, so good,” she said. “But there is so much that is unknown with this.”
She has sought and received a lot of guidance from her community corrections advisory board, the courts, the prosecutor’s office, other work release directors and the state. “It’s really been a coordinated effort to try to keep our work release numbers lower so that we can allow for social distancing,” Durlauf said.
The corrections case managers are working from home. “They are doing all their case manager appointments through video meetings,” Durlauf said. “We have laptops in our classrooms at work release. Our participants have been going into the classrooms and using the laptops to connect to the meeting that way.”
All education and rehabilitative classes are also now being done on the laptops, she said.
The staff has been wearing the recommended protective gear. “We’re using gloves for everything,” Durlauf said. “And we have N95 respirator masks for officers, if they’re coming in contact with a client who does have upper respiratory symptoms.”
Community corrections’ main doors, which lead to the center’s lobby, are now locked. “They’re locked for the most part,” Durlauf said, “except for busy times whenever our work release participants are coming.”
But for those who don’t have essential business at the center, no access is allowed. “We restricted all non-essential movement into our building [beginning] in mid-March,” Durlauf said. “We don’t allow the public into our building right now.” If the participant coming in is a juvenile, the juvenile is allowed to have a parent with him or her.”
Everyone coming into the building goes through a screening.
“We’ve set up a screening station at the entrance,” Durlauf said. “Every work-release participant, member of our staff and anybody who comes for like home detention gets their temperature taken as they enter the building. And they fill out a form that asks if they’ve experienced symptoms in the last 14 days.”
There have been people who have had high temperatures and have shown some upper respiratory symptoms. Instead of being allowed into the building, Durlauf said, they were sent to Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center’s screening site.
So far, there have been no problems with the new system. “Everyone has been relatively healthy,” Durlauf said. “We don’t have anybody with confirmed cases or anything like that.”
Kleinhelter and Durlauf said they’ve appreciated the support and help from county leadership and the public in making the adjustments.
“We’ve been able to lean on each other in a lot of ways. The county is really coming together,” Durlauf said. “I’m thankful for the commissioners who limited everything to essential business only. It helped because it gave the department heads direction.”
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