Jails and courthouses across Washington look for ways to protect employees, jurors and inmates from coronavirus

Originally published by Sara Jean Green, Seattle Times on 10/03/2020


John McGrath, the jail-services liaison for the Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs (WASPC) has said, in response to the coronavirus, officials in all of Washington’s county, city and tribal jails are: – increasing health screenings of incoming inmates; – more frequently cleaning intake areas and common rooms; – stockpiling surgical masks and other protective gear; and – putting plans together to respond to a potential outbreak of the virus in the jails’ “closed environments”.Courts are also allowing, in some criminal cases, for hearings to be conducted by phone and is expediting a project that was already in the works to allow both in-custody and out-of-custody criminal defendants to make appearances by video.Containing the virus is far greater for jails, where people are brought in from the streets, compared to prisons, which house people convicted of felonies and tend to have more stable populations. A UW affiliate professor distributed a memo to WASPC members last week, outlining best practices based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). He’s also part of a recently-established WASPC work group with representatives from all the state’s jails, who are participating in weekly conference calls and sharing information through WASPC’s member server.At King County Jail in Seattle and RJC in Kent, jail staff already have taken steps to prevent the virus’ spread. They include: – increased cleaning; – enhanced health screenings at intake for people exhibiting symptoms before they’re assigned to housing units; and – directing staff who are able to telecommute to do so.Jail staff have worked with the Snohomish Health District to establish a process to screen, identify, isolate (if necessary), and treat any inmate who presents at the jail with symptoms.

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