XENIA — The Greene County Coalition for Compassionate Justice gathered outside the county jail Saturday to call on local officials to reduce the jail population to fewer than 150 during the COVID-19 pandemic — and keep it down.
As of Monday at press time, the Greene County Jail population was 196, according to Miami Valley Jails records.
The jail facilities have enough beds for 382 incarcerated individuals, Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer said, with the jail population averaging around 312 last year. Those numbers dropped at the beginning of the pandemic after local judges decided to release some inmates to probation. On April 7, the population was down to 146, a previous article reported.
“Unless we are are completely full, I can’t release anybody,” Fischer said. “I have to have a court order. People are put into jail on court order or after arrest until they post bond or until they see a judge.”
In June, Common Pleas Court jury trials resumed. Fischer said with grand juries meeting again, indictments are being filed, thus more people are going to jail.
Speakers at the press conference told community members that the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in the jail is high without the ability to physically distance as well as with the growing number of cases in the county.
“We all know that congregate living situations are extremely dangerous during a pandemic and that jails are uniquely dangerous because of the unavoidably close quarters and the rapid turnover of individuals in the jail,” Kate LeVesconte, a coalition member, said.
LeVesconte also expressed concern as neighboring Montgomery County cases rise and at the report of an outbreak in its jail.
“We here in Greene County are highly at risk of an outbreak in the jail that can spread rapidly to the community at large,” she said.
As of Monday there had been no positive cases in the jail, Fischer reported.
LeVesconte called on jail administrators to ramp up testing as well as insist staff consistently wear masks and ensure incarcerated individuals have masks as well as sanitizing supplies. The problem with testing only individuals with symptoms, coalition member Leon Anderson added, is that the virus is often spread by those who are asymptomatic.
Fischer said prevention measures have been successful — and continue. The current jail population right now is manageable, he said.
The health department conducts testing whenever requested, he said. When one inmate — who had no symptoms in the jail — tested positive upon arrival at the state facility, the health department tested everyone who had been in contact with him or had been housed near him in the jail. Results were all negative.
All employees are temperature-checked every day, as well as inmates upon intake. Any employee who has a symptom is sent home. Fischer said one employee tested positive one day — then negative the next two days.
The sheriff also said there is plentiful personal protection equipment. Employees wear masks when they arrive, and if they are determined to be well, they are allowed to unmask. Fischer said there is more protection available, like shields, if they want it. Masks and hand sanitizer are also available to inmates, he said. The jail continues its no-visitor policy.
Fischer said there are also designated areas to move inmates if anyone becomes sick.
Coalition members thanked law enforcement and judges for their early response, and asked them to re-double their efforts.
“We’re a long way from overcoming this pandemic,” Anderson said. “Right now each additional jail detainee increases health risks for all Greene County residents.”
In response to the coalition’s call to action, Fischer said he’s challenging those in favor of lowering the jail population to come up with programs to work with citizens to keep them from committing crimes in the first place.
“We want to be compassionate, too, but at what point do we say everyone stays out?” Fischer added. “And are we being compassionate to citizens who are victims of crimes?”
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