Restrictions in visitation, isolation of new bookings, and a lower jail population are all measures taken by the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office to stop the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office has been working on Covid-19 related responses and precautions for several weeks, according to the Office. In several press releases, the OCSO has detailed steps to protect those detained in the jail and the public at large.
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As of March 23, the lobby of the detention center is temporarily closed.
Exceptions are made for attorneys making non-contact visits with clients, law enforcement personnel, Bondsmen and bond surrenders.
Families wishing to make video visits with someone currently incarcerated are limited to doing so remotely, as all video visit kiosks are currently closed.
Persons currently incarcerated are being afforded two free five-minute phone calls per week. Additional phone calls may be made at the expense of the recipient.
In an effort to prevent the introduction of the virus to the jail, all new bookings are isolated in single-cells for ten days to watch for any symptoms of Covid-19 or flu. After that time, the person is placed in the appropriate population.
The number of triple-cells has been reduced by 59.
If a person is scheduled to be released from their incarceration, but is exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19 by the time of release, they will be assessed by health care providers and transported to the appropriate level of care.
The current population of the detention center is at its lowest point in over a decade, certainly the lowest in this reporter’s memory.
The last jail count released showed a population of approximately 1500, after averaging just over 1700 since the beginning of the year.
The lower population is due to the work of the Sheriff’s Office and community partners like the DA, Public Defenders’ Office, and district judges working to get low-level offenders released on Own Recognizance bonds.
Local police have shifted to citing and releasing low-level offenders rather than booking them into the jail.
Additionally, people being held on warrants from other jurisdictions have been released to the custody of those jurisdictions.
The dramatic lowering of the jail population raises several questions:
- Should the population rise after this crisis passes?
- If low-level offenders are not a risk to the public during a health crisis, why would they be when there isn’t a pandemic?
- If the police are able to cite and release for low-level offenses, why have they been putting people in jail for those same offenses before?
- Why do we have a policy to hold people on warrants from other jurisdictions without a sunset on the time of their incarceration?
The passing of this public health crisis will leave a lot of room for public policy to be fine-tuned, one hopes.
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