Coronavirus: Clark County Jail releasing ‘some’ non-violent inmates

Steven Toms, center, appears Monday with other Clark County Jail inmates for their video arraignment, which is being used in Clark County Municipal Court in response to the coronavirus pandemic. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Steven Toms, center, appears Monday with other Clark County Jail inmates for their video arraignment, which is being used in Clark County Municipal Court in response to the coronavirus pandemic. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey/Staff

Credit: Bill Lackey/Staff

The Clark County Jail has been releasing “some” inmates over the last week to cut down on jail population, the county’s sheriff said.

Sheriff Deb Burchett said the jail has been working with the county’s judges to release non-violent offenders and those with misdemeanor charges in order to keep the jail’s population down.

“The judges have been working with us throughout the week on releasing inmates who have non-violent offenses and misdemeanors. Basically those with very low-level offenses,” Burchett said.

Burchett said she didn’t have an immediate count on how many inmates have been released, but the jail’s current population is between 113 to 117 inmates. The jail usually averages an inmate population of about 200 inmates.

The Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg has also been working with courts to release some non-violent inmates, jail executive director Scott Springhetti said.

“We have been working with the courts and doing what they feel is the best,” Springhetti said. “We aren’t just kicking people out without an order. We’ve been closing following the court’s advice.”

Springhetti said on March 1 the jail had a population of 159 inmates — on Wednesday morning the jail had just 95 inmates.

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In another effort to cut down on the Clark County Jail population, the Clark County Municipal Court released an emergency order on Monday, which was signed by all of Clark County’s judges, that all arraignments for defendants not in custody will be continued for the next 12 weeks. The order excludes first-degree misdemeanor offenses of violence and OVI with two or more OVI priors within 10 years.

For defendants currently in custody, arraignments will take place via video conferencing, the order said.

Burchett said the continued arraignments also “absolutely” helped to temporarily cut down the jail’s population.

“Not only that, but it helps to stop the movement of the inmates. This way, inmates don’t have to go to the courthouse. They can do the video arrangements right there in the jail,” Burchett said.

With some inmates being released, Burchett said it’s important for residents to know that the jail is not releasing all of its inmate population or closing down.

“It’s important for the public to know, if someone needs to come to jail, they will be coming to jail,” Burchett said. “We are not closing the jail down completely. We are not shutting down. But we are doing what we can to keep the jail population down.”

In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus among inmates, Burchett said the jail has followed state guidelines issued by Gov. Mike DeWine and suspended all visitations and events for inmates.

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“All the programs, the ministry, all of that is on hold temporarily. Pretty much everything is on hold because of this,” Burchett said. “They will still get their commissary. They will still be fed. They can still make phone calls.”

Burchett said some of the inmates have signed up for video visitation, which allows them to video chat with family members.

“Some of them have signed up for that, so they still get to do that and see people,” Burchett said.

All deputies working in the jail have also been given personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and paper suits, Burchett said.

“It’s up to them if they want to use them, they can use them if they want. They all have them. But I would prefer they all wear them,” Burchett said.

Burchett said staff have also been cleaning the jail “top to bottom.”

“We are doing everything we can to keep our deputies and our inmates safe,” Burchett said.