The number of prisoners at the Daviess County Security Center has taken a serious drop in the last few weeks. The jail, which regularly held 200 inmates, is now down to 135.
The reduction is less because of good behavior and more because of a concerted effort by authorities to lower the population and try and keep the COVID-19 virus out of the facility.
“We worked really hard on it,” said Daviess County Sheriff Gary Allison. “We lowered the number on purpose to lessen the threat of COVID-19 in the jail. “
“It’s part of a statewide effort,” said Daviess County Prosecutor Dan Murrie. “We are all trying to be good citizens and partner with the governor.”
The reduction has come over the last few weeks. One big change was that work release prisoners were taken out of the jail.
“We have no control when they are out who they get around, and when there has been flu outbreak in the past, it’s usually came into the jail through the work release,” said Allison. “We figure if anyone is going to have contact with someone with COVID-19, then it will probably be someone in work release because they do get in close contact with other people. With the prosecutor’s work on it, the judges’ work on it and community corrections’ work on it, they all were put on home detention and once the threat of this virus is over, we will be bringing them back.”
The closing of work release gives the county space to deal with the virus.
“By taking out the work release we are now in a better position to quarantine any new prisoners,” said Allison. “When a new prisoner comes in, they are now put on a 14-day quarantine.”
The work release prisoners were not the only ones impacted by the desire to keep the jail population down. The county took other actions to try and get the numbers lower.
“Anyone with just a short time to go, they went ahead to probation,” said Allison. “We also had a few go ahead and sign pleas. We reduced the population pretty well. We looked at everybody, but you can’t put someone on probation that has had repeated probation violations. If they have several failures to appear or they face serious charges, it doesn’t make sense to let them out. The community still has to be protected.”
When the coronavirus first surfaced, the ACLU asked the courts to release prisoners because of the health risk they faced in a captive population. The ACLU lost that case.
“I think the judge saw all the work the sheriffs were already doing to try and lower their populations,” said Allison.
Daviess County has been serving as an overflow facility for a number of counties that were overcrowded. Allison says that while Daviess County is still holding a handful of out-of-county prisoners, no new ones have come in since the end of January.
Law enforcement officers have also slowed down on the number of people they are taking to jail.
“We have asked the officers to long-form whoever they can and not just arrest everything that’s moving,” said Allison. “We have some people that seem to want to get out and fight. They are arresting the more serious crimes, crimes against people, DUIs and things like that. Batteries also seem to be up.”
And while police arrests may be down, the officers are increasing charges against those who are taking the ride to jail.
“If they are getting into trouble, they are not doing anything essential,” said Allison. “So, if you want our attention, we will give it to you in full force.”
That force is a charge of violation of a stay-home order, a B-misdemeanor, that carries a maximum six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
“We have charged some people for violating the order,” said Murrie. “It was some people who were out who should not have been out. If people are going to do what they shouldn’t be doing, then I’ll put another charge on them and they’ll have to answer to it later.”
All of the actions have been taken to both protect the prisoners at the jail and in the big picture, the public.
“Everybody is doing all they can do,” said Murrie. “Everybody is being really careful with that jail population. The judges, the sheriff, the police, community corrections and my office, we all are working to keep COVID out of there. We want to keep it from becoming a situation where we have no say on who gets released and worry about public safety being at risk.”
So far there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at the Daviess County facility. Officials are uncertain whether the current approach will continue after the virus has abated.
“That is a good question,” said Murrie. “We know this is the new temporary way things will be. I guess we have to wait and find out. I really hope it does not become the new normal because that will mean we will be in a long-term fight with the virus. I just know that for now, it is going to change things.”