The Daviess County Detention Center, like other jails across the state, saw its populations decline earlier this year as steps were taken to reduce the number of jail inmates who could potentially catch COVID-19 behind bars.
Law enforcement reduced the number of people they took to jails and the Department of Corrections released certain inmates in an effort to cut jail populations.
At a time, the Daviess jail’s inmate count was down to 480 inmates, which is pretty low compared to times before the pandemic when the jail had close to 700 inmates. Last week, Daviess County Jailer Art Maglinger said the jail’s population is creeping back toward pre-pandemic levels.
“Our population has grown quite a bit,” Maglinger said. “It’s not pre-pandemic, but it has picked up quite a bit to where we experience overcrowding in some of the cells.”
Between November of last year and last month, the jail’s average inmate population was 628. That period includes about four and a half months of “normal” jail activity and arrests before the pandemic struck. As of last Wednesday, the jail’s population was 650 inmates.
Multiple measures are taken to keep COVID-19 from spreading among the inmate population. All new inmates are tested for the virus and are quarantined for 14 days before they are placed in the general inmate population. Inmates are also issued face masks. Detention center staff, and inmates who work outside their cells, are required to wear masks while working.
“We are still taking all of the same precautions,” Maglinger said.
For a time, the jail reduced the number of days new inmates were kept in quarantine from 14 days to 10 days, but went back to 14.
“We’ve gone back to being more strict,” Maglinger said.
The jail has had deputy jailers off work because of quarantine. “That’s a big hit on our staff if you have to quarantine for two weeks,” Maglinger said. Also, the jail recently had 33 inmates in the same pod in quarantine after a few began feeling sick. None tested positive for the coronavirus.
“The first step was to proactively test everybody inside the cell,” he said. “... That was 33 tests that all came back negative.”
Testing is done by the jail’s medical staff. “If we had to take 33 guys out (for testing), that would be a logistical challenge,” he said.
Most jail programs are still halted except for the substance abuse program, “moral reconation” and the “portal” re-entry program. The jail had requested permission from the Department of Corrections to expand the number of inmates in its substance abuse training program, but that request was put on hold when COVID-19 cases began to rise statewide, Maglinger said.
Work crews outside the jail have not restarted yet.
“Once we get through the wintertime, I’ll be looking to resume,” he said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse