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Jail boosts cleaning, monitoring

Western Tidewater Regional Jail Superintendent William Smith said he would be open to releasing certain inmates early as a means of combating a possible COVID-19 outbreak there — something that has happened at various other institutions across the country — but that it is out of his hands.

“We have not released any inmates early,” Smith said. “I did offer that up as an alternative at a meeting earlier this week (but) it would be specifically up to the courts, and/or the attorneys involved. I certainly have no objection to this and would follow any orders from the courts.”

He said the Commonwealth’s Attorney and the defense attorney for an inmate would have to agree to release people under certain conditions, and then a court order would have to be issued.

He said there has been an increase in video visits and in telephone communications during the COVID-19 pandemic after the jail ended in-person visitation by friends and family. Attorneys, he said, can still come to the jail as long as they are not symptomatic.

Smith said attorneys are still coming to the jail and are conducting mostly non-contact visits, though some are still opting to have contact visits.

He has ordered three additional video visitation systems, at a cost of $4,500, to add to the one the jail already has for attorneys to speak with clients.

For inmate video visitation with family and friends, the usual cost is 25 cents per minute, but Global-Tel Link, the company that administers that, is allowing inmates and those contacting them up to 15 minutes of free time per week.

Smith said about 75 to 80 percent of inmates already use the system.

Besides the increased use of video calls, jail staff are being screened before entering the jail, and at-risk inmates in two areas of the jail are screened twice daily, Smith said. Their temperature and vital signs are checked, and inmates answer a questionnaire about their health. No one at the jail has shown signs of the virus, “so there has not been a need to test anyone,” Smith said. “Inmates may make a request to see medical at any time, and their request will be triaged and responded to accordingly.”

The jail has established isolation areas for inmates if needed, and it has increased sanitation efforts and added additional hand sanitizing stations.

“All inmates who have a compromised immune system, or are geriatric, will be monitored,” Smith said. “These inmates are monitored and followed by our medical staff more closely (and) on a regular basis.”