Jail populations in Berrien and Van Buren counties are down considerably as officials try to keep the novel coronavirus outside their walls.
Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey said the population Tuesday of 248 inmates is the lowest he has seen in his 20 years as sheriff. He said the jail capacity is 342 inmates and the population normally is near that number.
Van Buren County Sheriff Daniel Abbott said his county’s jail population Tuesday was 106, considerably down from the typical count of 190.
“We haven’t released anyone early, but the numbers are down because judges are allowing deferment of sentencings and we’re issuing a lot more appearance tickets rather than bringing people to jail,” Abbott said.
Bailey said that is being done in Berrien County, as well. Further, he said, a number of inmates were released last week after Berrien County Trial Court judges suspended a lot of people’s sentences, cutting them short. For example, someone serving a six-month sentence was released, having served five months.
Bailey and Abbott said violent criminals still are being brought to jail and lodged. But the new inmates are health-screened before being brought to the intake area.
“We’re taking every precaution we can,” Bailey said. “A medical evaluation is done before anyone comes in. And we’re doing a lot more cleaning and disinfecting.”
Abbott said new people being brought in are screened in the jail’s garage area before being booked into the jail.
“If there’s any question, we’ll send them to the hospital,” he said.
Inside the jail, Abbott said, “We’re cleaning and disinfecting everything twice a day, going above and beyond.”
He said all incoming mail is quarantined for five days before being distributed.
“We’ve also shut our lobby down at the sheriff’s office until this passes. Everything is being done by mail or telephone right now, and no in-person visits are allowed at the jail. Visits are by video only,” he said.
“Attorneys are also doing most of their communications with inmates by video. We have rooms set up to do that,” Abbott said. “The idea is to keep the community out without violating anyone’s rights.”
Bailey and Abbott both said to date there have been no cases of COVID-19 discovered in their jails.