Corrections, sheriff’s departments taking extra measures
STEUBENVILLE — Due to concerns over the spread of the new coronavirus, jails and corrections facilities across the state are taking precautions.
Locally, the Jefferson County Justice Center, the Harrison County Jail and the Eastern Ohio Correction Center have each made changes in response to COVID-19.
According to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, the Justice Center is no longer taking prisoners from other counties and has lowered its number of inmates.
“We have released some,” Abdalla said. “We have gone from 135 prisoners down to 92 now. We quit accepting prisoners from other counties. We have contracts with other counties to house their prisoners — I’ve stopped that also. I don’t know who is coming in here (from other counties). It’s a safety precaution.”
Precautions regarding cleaning and screening are being taken.
“We do a lot of things now,” Abdalla said. “People are working with gloves on, they are constantly washing their hands and have hand sanitizers. (Deputies) responding to a call have gloves on.
“If someone has to come through the door (of the Justice Center), the nurse comes down, takes their temperature and asks them questions. ‘Do you have a cough?’ and things like that before they even get into the building.”
Abdalla said it is important to keep the staff healthy.
“My concern is the health of the people I’ve got working for me, as well as the concern about the health of the prisoners that are in here,” he said.
In Harrison County, Sheriff Ronald Myers said the county jail, which houses eight inmates, is frequently being cleaned.
“We have the inmates clean the jail twice a week,” he said. “Disinfect everything, their sleeping quarters, the floors and so on and so forth. We have masks and gowns here.
“We try to eliminate (the risk) as much as we can here as far as the cleaning aspect of it and trying to clean essential items that are always being touched.”
Some non-violent offenders are being released across the state.
“The (Ohio) Supreme Court has gave the courts a little bit of latitude on releasing non-violent offenders back out so that the population of the county jails is not overcrowded,” Myers said. “That has happened, I think, pretty much all over the state. Obviously I don’t know what every county is doing, but most of the counties around here that I have talked to and that we contract with, that has been the outcome of that.
“The reason why I think the Supreme Court has looked at it is most sheriff’s offices, deputies and so on, are around the inmates, as well as the inmates are around them. So, they want to be able to cut some of that potential out of the road and let those non-violent offenders out.”
Myers said that jails around the state are stopping acceptance of out-of-county inmates. He said the inmates his department had housed at the Jefferson County Justice Center that were there before the pandemic have been able to stay there.
“They don’t want to take a chance of having somebody come in with (COVID-19), and I get that,” he said.
Myers also stressed the importance of the safety of his deputies and said the department stays in communication with the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association.
“We want to keep the office healthy,” he said.
“The sheriff’s offices across the state of Ohio have gotten weekly updates from Executive Director Robert Cornell. They keep on top of what is being requested by the governor’s office for us to do, as well as the precautions that we need to take.
“That is one of the nice things about Ohio, we have our executive director and he talks to the sheriff’s offices regularly. It keeps the sheriff’s offices all on track here in Ohio so we can do what needs to be done and still protect the public from criminals that are still out there and be able to do our jobs and protect ourselves.”
At the Eastern Ohio Correction Center, Executive Director Eugene Gallo said visitation has been halted and community service programs have stopped. Gov. Mike DeWine ordered an end to visitation at county jails and community-based corrections facilities on March 13.
“Family members are no longer permitted to visit,” Gallo said. “We have eliminated community service work, and that is a big part of what we do. We have had a good relationship with the community and we do a lot of work in the community. Unfortunately right now, we’re not able to do that.”
The facility is different from prisons or jails as most of those sent there go through a program, rather than get a set time for release. Programs have not been shortened by any considerable amount due to the virus.
“We are not letting anybody out early so-to-speak,” Gallo said. “When someone gets sent to prison, they are sent for a definite sentence. In our case, most of the time it has to do with how far someone has completed their program. The average is around four months a stay here. That pretty much hasn’t changed.
“If there was somebody that was close to completing their program, we might expedite their release, but we’re not talking about any kind of significant amount of time. Maybe a few days.
“For the most part, people are here for a specific program with a specific purpose and their release is always subject to the approval of a court.”