County jail keeping virus numbers down

Mike Genet

While jails and prisons have become hot spots for COVID-19 in several places around the country, including the facility in Lansing, Kansas, Jackson County Detention Center personnel have managed to avoid a large outbreak at the jail, even with instances where a handful of staff members or inmates tested positive.

From a full-scale round of testing this week at the Jackson County Detention Center, just one staff member out of 305 and two asymptomatic inmates out of 706, Sheriff Darryl Forte reported Friday. When testing happens at the jail, it is mandatory with employees and voluntary with inmates, but this past week, “We tested everyone in the facility,” Forte said.

After prior testing days netted some positive cases among staff or inmates, medical isolation and quarantine measures have kept COVID-19 from spreading further, and no jail inmate has died from the virus. Compliance from inmates has been high, Forte said, especially after testers switched to a less-invasive form of the nasal swab.

“That first day (in late June) we had one inmate that refused, and she came around and got tested,” Forte said. “I think it’s something they want, to stay safe, and they want to know what’s happening in the facility.”

From early in the pandemic, and particularly after outbreaks started in other detention facilities, Forte said the jail staff has been diligent with wiping down surfaces and other sanitation efforts, wearing masks and going through regular symptom checks.

“We check as they leave (work), not just as they enter,” Forte said.

Inmates have been credible about keeping social distance, he said, and the jail has greatly restricted its visitor policy as a precaution.

Also helpful early in the pandemic: the sheriff’s office worked with prosecutors and judges to release 150 non-violent inmates in early April, then another 30 soon after, allowing for more social distance and isolation capability. For some released inmates, ankle monitor bracelets have sufficed, Forte said, adding that some measures to keep jail population from getting high could stay even when the pandemic ends.

“The courts have also been not as quick to send them here in the first place,” Forte said. “We’ve found some inmates who probably didn’t need to be in jail in the first place.”