More inmates are being released on home electronic monitoring as the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail takes steps to avoid the potential spread of the coronavirus.
According to jail Superintendent Martin Kumer, the courts have released 32 people on home electronic incarceration since Monday and anticipate that figure will grow to approximately 50 people in coming days.
“Most of these individuals were work-release inmates or inmates who were already working in the community, and several more are also being released pre-trial,” Kumer said. “Our local judges and commonwealth’s attorneys have been incredibly cooperative while maintaining community safety.”
Counting the 32 released on electronic monitoring, the number of inmates under the jail’s supervision is 398, according to Kumer, leaving 366 inmates in the jail as of Friday, though that number is anticipated to shrink.
On Monday the jail’s population was 418 and has since decreased by 13% — the lowest it has been in almost 20 years, according to Kumer.
The jail also is working with the courts to find a way to release medically compromised inmates in a safe manner.
Given the environment of jails, Kumer said it’s difficult to handle social distancing but staff is attempting to reduce overcrowding in cells, in part by utilizing home release.
Those who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, will be assumed to be positive for the virus and subsequently will be quarantined from the jail’s population. Medical treatment will be handled on a case-by-case basis, according to Kumer.
Currently, no staff members or inmates are symptomatic, Kumer said.
When quarantined, Kumer said inmates will be placed in one of the jail’s three dedicated negative airflow rooms, which will help to prevent transmission of the virus through the air. Each room can accommodate two people. The plan will be modified if an internal outbreak occurs.
“In the event a mass quarantine is needed, we have a housing unit with 80 beds where we can place inmates who are symptomatic and/or have tested positive for the virus,” Kumer said. “Thanks to court efforts, we will have additional designated housing areas by the end of the week.”
According to a joint news release issued Thursday from the Charlottesville and Albemarle commonwealth’s attorneys, the prosecution offices have worked with Kumer, judges, court clerks, defense attorneys and law enforcement partners to take a variety of steps.
Per the release, those steps include:
» Releasing inmates with 30 days or less remaining on home electronic incarceration, at no cost to the inmates.
» Setting emergency hearings and reaching sentencing agreements for those incarcerated on non-violent offenses in the hopes of releasing them from the jail more quickly.
» Postponing weekend service of jail sentences and postponing jail reporting dates for offenders who have been approved for delayed confinement.
» Increasing the use of video conferencing to limit courtroom appearances of ACRJ inmates.
“All of these actions are being taken after the commonwealth’s attorneys have carefully considered the individual circumstances in each case and taken into account the recommendations of the superintendent of ACRJ,” the joint release states. “All of these actions are also subject to judicial review and approval.”
These steps fall in line with some changes suggested by Gov. Ralph Northam at a news conference Thursday, at which he encouraged local criminal justice officials, including commonwealth’s attorneys, defense attorneys, sheriffs and jail officials to explore proactive measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 while ensuring public safety.
The Virginia Department of Corrections also has taken steps to prevent an outbreak within its facilities by suspending all in-person visitation to state correctional facilities and suspending all transfers from local and regional jails for the next 30 days to limit potential exposure to the virus.