PIMA COUNTY, Ariz. — The Pima County Sheriff's Department discussed new procedures for its inmates during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wednesday evening, PCSD announced a stop to in-person visitation to its jail. Friday morning, the department told the public via Facebook Live, it’s updated COVID-19 policies, and that - as of now - there are zero confirmed cases of the illness within its jail.
"The most severe threat that we have is the introduction of the virus into our facility,” said Sheriff Mark Napier.
Napier said the department has to look at the coronavirus crisis as a total systems approach: from both criminal and health perspectives.
Former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, is on Napier’s staff. Napier said, he asked Carmona to make a detailed assessment of the jail and its safety practices this past week.
"He's provided a detailed written report to me saying that no, in fact, we are engaging in the best practices to protect our inmates, protect our professional staff. So to have that resource I can immediately tag and say look at this from a public health standpoint and give me guidance back is invaluable to me as a sheriff of this county right now,” said Napier.
With reducing the number of detainees, PCSD said more spaces can become available for the jail to use to separate inmates who may be infected.
Adding to that, Corrections Bureau Captain Joshua Arnold said, the first line of defense starts outside the jail. PCSD is screening every single person coming in.
"We're aggressively identifying any detainee that we have that may be symptomatic for coronavirus symptoms, and we're getting those people screened as soon as possible,” said Arnold.
The county jail already has infectious disease policies in place, so now amid the pandemic, PCSD is ramping up it practices and taking recommendations from the CDC. With those recommendations, the department closed in-person visitation and inmate programs. Arnold said, its all about limiting foot traffic and preventing cross-contamination.
"Long-term, we know how critical those pieces are to successfully run our facility. But just in the short-term, during this crisis, that's something for safety purposes we felt was pertinent to do,” said Arnold.
With releasing inmates, Napier explained that it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. "This is a thoughtful approach to understanding that do we really need to have that person from a public safety standpoint incarcerated right now given the scope of the crisis that we're facing. If the answer is no, that person gets released, but it doesn't mean that they avoid all consequence from that criminality. When things stabilize they will still be held accountable."
PCSD said its jail population is decreasing. As of Friday morning, the county has 1,740 detainees. Six weeks ago that number was close to 2,000.