Coronavirus

Santa Cruz County Jail System Still Free of Covid-19

Protocol includes early release for some, increased cleaning

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has released 93 people from its jail system since March 20 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has released 93 people from its jail system since March 20, when county Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel imposed a series of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Of the 93 that were released, 14 have since been rearrested. Information on those arrests was not immediately available.

Newel’s orders included the closure of non-essential businesses, along with parks and beaches. They also directed Sheriff Jim Hart to reduce the jail population, in the Main Jail, the Rountree facility in Watsonville and the Blaine Street women’s facility and gave him discretion of how to do so.

This included the release of people charged, convicted or accused of low-level misdemeanors, non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious offenses, Sheriff’s spokeswoman Ashley Keehn says.

Jail officials also consider inmates’ age and health when considering them for early release. This includes inmates over 60, those with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, HIV and heart disease.

Keehn says that the releases have reduced the jail population “significantly,” and helped keep the system free from any cases.

“The goal has been to keep Covid-19 out of the population, to keep our staff and those staying at the facility safe, and to avoid overrunning our hospital system in the event there was an outbreak in one of the housing units,” she says. “And we’ve been able to do that.”

The jail has also established a protocol aimed at keeping Covid-19 out of the jails. This includes increased cleaning routines and face masks for all corrections officers. Officials have stopped all in-person visits except by clergy and attorneys, although free video and phone visitation is available, as is postage.

All inmates are tested for symptoms before they enter the jail and are housed in an isolation cell for 14 days. In addition, all employees are screened before entering jail facilities each workday.

“When you have so many people living in close proximity, you have to take all the precautions you can to keep everyone safe,” Keehn says. “These Orders were put into place early enough to prevent an outbreak like we have seen in other jails and prisons across the Country.”

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