COVID-19 causes some inmate releases at Middle River Regional Jail
COVID-19 is not just a concern for people out and about in the Shenandoah Balley. It's also a concern for the almost 900 inmates housed at Middle River Regional Jail – and the staff.
That's why commonwealth's attorneys and courts are releasing some non-violent offenders.
Now that schools and colleges are closed, jail superintendent Jeffery Newton said the 900 people there probably make up the largest group of people anywhere in the valley. He said currently, there are close to 900 inmates in a facility that was meant for 396.
"We have folks living together in close proximity, breathing the same air," Newton said. "My concern is that if we have somebody that enters the facility with the disease, it would quickly spread."
Newton said currently, they may have issues quarantining someone if it were needed.
'We're crowded, and we need to have the flexibility in our population to be able to isolate," Newton said. "We have limited capacity today."
Newton said there is a possibility someone could bring the coronavirus into the jail, because there are inmates and staff coming and going from the jail every day. Newton said they screen everyone before they leave the jail and before they come in, taking people's temperatures.
Visitation has also been suspended at the jail, just like all Virginia correctional facilities.
However, they would still need to be able to isolate someone if needed, and that's something they can't currently do.
Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin is one of several prosecutors in the valley evaluating which inmates could be released.
"The prosecutors in the area got together and came up with criteria and among those criteria are non-violent inmates who were going to be released within the next 30 days anyway," Martin said.
He said he thinks it's important to protect vulnerable people both in and outside the facilities, and that's done by making sure COVID-19 doesn't spread.
"That's bad for the inmates, but it's also really bad for the population at large, because there is movement in and out of the facility," Martin said.
While some may have concerns about public safety, Martin said they have not released any inmates they think would be a danger to the general public.
"The numbers are very small, and we've done everything that we can to vet each and every one of the people who is being released early," Martin said.
The inmates being considered for release are non-violent. For example, Martin said one inmate released early was someone serving time for petit larceny. Additionally, not everyone is being released. Martin said some are being put on home electronic monitoring, and some are being furloughed, meaning they'd have to serve the rest of their time at a later date.
Newton said if people have questions about if someone is being released, they should contact their respective commonwealth attorney's office or court. He said the jail does not have the authority to decide who is released.