The number of COVID-19 cases at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail has decreased following an outbreak last month that impacted nearly a quarter of those incarcerated.
According to data provided to the jail’s Authority Board during a Thursday meeting, as of that day there were 31 active cases among the inmate population and three cases among staff. That’s down from 65 active cases among the incarcerated population and 10 cases among staff during the peak in January.
“If you look at the community numbers, we are a direct representation of the community, so if it’s in the community, it’s in this jail,” Superintendent Martin Kumer said. “We are getting inmates booked into the jail who are bringing COVID with them. So it’s not as though all these cases are generated from inside the jail; we are seeing a large number of individuals coming in off the street who already have COVID.”
If an inmate is exposed to someone who is COVID-positive, Kumer said they’re tested immediately and then moved to a different unit if their test comes back positive. Newly booked individuals are tested when they’re booked and quarantined for 14 days in an effort to mitigate spread, Kumer said.
So far, no one has needed to be hospitalized and symptoms have ranged from minimal to mild, he said.
Kumer also addressed concerns centered on a lack of hand sanitizer, which he said was partially the result of CDC recommendation to use soap and water when washing hands.
A secondary reason is the 60% or higher amount of alcohol within hand sanitizer, which Kumer said poses a risk for the large percentage of the jail’s population with substance abuse issues.
“If I give someone 60% alcohol of anything, it can be consumed,” Kumer said. “We don’t need to provide it because the best way to do it is soap and water. Everyone has access to water 24/7 and so we would be introducing something that is not as effective and can be abused.”
Kumer also sought to correct a misinterpretation that inmates have only been given Windex to clean with. The chemical is actually called “Lemonex,” and is blue, just like Windex, Kumer said, but is a cleaning product that has been approved for use in combating COVID at jails, nursing homes and hospitals.
In terms of the jail’s population, Kumer said there has been an increase with the total number of inmates now reaching 290. Around 19% of those inmates are considered “state responsible,” Kumer said, which means they have been fully sentenced and are serving a year or longer for at least one felony conviction.
“The Department of Corrections has stopped taking inmates in during the pandemic, for the most part,” he said. “They’re infamous for not taking custody of their state-responsible inmates, but during the pandemic it has been exceptionally exaggerated.”
Kumer said this increase in state-responsible inmates is a contributing factor to the estimated $75,000 above budget the jail’s operating revenue is expected to be. Notably, Kumer said DOC prescription reimbursements are expected to come in $275,000 over budget due to the large number of DOC inmates in the facility.
However, due to a variety of spending shortfalls, in part influenced by a smaller jail population and low staffing rate, Kumer said the jail expects to have a net positive income around $213,198.
The board members also discussed a perceived increase in complaints from inmates about COVID safety precautions and steps being taken and with issues within the aging facility, which is set for renovation in the coming years.
According to Vice Chairman Jay James, all the members of the board are concerned about the safety of those incarcerated and are working to better the conditions. However, James said the context of the complaints should also be considered.
“One of the things I’ve seen in the inmate population is that when you have criminogenic associations and addictive behaviors and you’re dealing with a lot, you can say things with an objective to try to get attention,” James said. “Sometimes it’s targeted and it is motivated in a way purely out of your addiction and out of some of the things someone is struggling with, and it’s not always based in something that all of us would look at as objective or factual.”
Several board members appeared to agree with James’ assessment and Kumer urged those with concerns to bring them to his attention so they can be addressed.
“Every day myself, my staff, we make mistakes and there are always better ways to do things and I’m always open to other ways,” Kumer said. “I say that because I don’t want people to think that what they’re hearing is flat-out wrong. It might be exaggerated, it might be wrong but call me, tell me and we’ll work together and you will see these things addressed.”