Local jail on ‘code red’ after inmate contracts coronavirus

The Montgomery County Jail.
Caption
The Montgomery County Jail.

The Montgomery County Jail is on “code red” status after an inmate tested positive for COVID-19 this week, which is the first confirmed infection inside the facility.

Additionally, two inmates who were transported from the county jail to state prison also tested positive for the virus while in state custody, officials said.

The jail continues to work with public health officials to try to make sure conditions inside the facility are as safe as possible, said Montgomery County Jail Major Jeremy Roy.

“I feel very comfortable with the plan and procedures we have in place,” he said.

But some attorneys and other community members say they are very concerned about overcrowding at the jail, because they believe it increases the risk of the spread of infection.

“I am concerned about the recent increase in the Montgomery County jail population,” wrote Ellis Jacobs, a senior attorney with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality in a recent email to the courts, public health and the county sheriff. “It poses the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak with disastrous consequences for prisoners, staff and the community.”

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After an inmate at the county jail developed a fever, he was isolated in a medical cell and tested for the coronavirus, and the results came back positive on Tuesday, said Roy.

Five other inmates who made contact with the infected individual were quarantined and tested, but the tests were negative, Roy said. They will continue to be monitored and will be tested again if they show any symptoms.

The infected inmate no longer has a fever or symptoms, but he will be quarantined for 14 days.

The state Correctional Reception Center also notified the jail that two inmates who were recently transported from the jail facility to prison also tested positive while in state custody, Roy said.

The inmates showed no signs or symptoms of the virus when they were transported to the center, and their jail cells are under a mandatory 14-day quarantine, Roy said.

The county jail, along with more than two dozen other lock-up facilities in Ohio, is on code red status, which means it has to comply with extra safety measures to send sentenced inmates to prison, officials say.

Inmates have to be quarantined for 14 days by themselves and they cannot show any signs of illness to be taken to prison, Roy said.

In mid-May, the state re-opened its Correctional Reception Center to accept sentenced male inmates who are headed to prison, officials said.

The county jail continues to hold sentenced female inmates, because the Ohio Reformatory for Women has not reopened.

One county jail employee also has tested positive for COVID-19, but he was off on vacation when he developed symptoms and has remained off from work, officials say.

Jail staff take the temperature of people coming into the facility and inmates who are being transported to court or other facilities.

The jail has done COVID-19 testing on fewer than 20 people who displayed signs or symptoms of illness, all of which came back negative, until Tuesday.

On Wednesday, there were 595 inmates locked up at the jail, which is a larger-than-ideal population during this ongoing public health crisis, jail officials say.

But the population increased because the jail was required to hold inmates who normally would be transferred to prison, officials say.

The Montgomery County Jail regularly houses far more inmates than its state mandated maximum population of 443 prisoners, which is based on the size of the facility, said Jacobs, with ABLE.

But, Jacobs said, local judges who recognized the risk of COVID-19 in the jail worked in a concerted way to reduce the jail population from more than 800 inmates in the beginning of March to 467 by early April.

Unfortunately, the jail population is “shooting” back up, which poses a significant risk to inmates, jail staff and the larger community, Jacobs said.

Social distancing and high levels of hygiene are very difficult to maintain in a confined jail setting, and staff go home every night and inmates are released back into the community, which creates opportunities to spread the virus, Jacobs said.

“There is a lot of interaction between what goes on in the jail and the rest of the community,” he said.

Police and the courts need to resume the steps they took in March and April to reduce the jail population, which included officers opting to issue citations instead of making arrests and judges should reduce or eliminate the use of cash bail, Jacobs said.

Judges can decide to stop revoking probation for technical violations and reduce the length of sentences, he said.

“It is my understanding that judges did these things with great success in March and April,” he said. “They need go back to doing them again.”

Despite the changes, crime did not increase in Dayton, he said.