KINGMAN — The Mohave County Adult Detention Facility has been preparing and responding to issues involving the COVID-19 virus and is working to keep jail inmates and staff safe, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office reported Tuesday.
Capt. Don Bischoff, the jail commander, said that he and his staff have been working with the Mohave County Department of Public Health as well as jail medical staff from Wellpath, the health care provider contracted for inmate health services inside the jail.
The jail began sharing information with the entire inmate population on March 6 as an effort to keep the population well and accurately informed. Those communications have continued in order to be transparent with the inmates and to keep the rumors and “bad information” to a minimum, the MCSO said in a news release Tuesday.
Earlier this month, the sheriff’s office asked area law enforcement agencies to change some of their booking practices involving felony and misdemeanor arrests.
The Bullhead City Police Department has been keeping this in mind.
“We are citing and releasing when appropriate. To help protect our employees and first responders, we will be completing the paperwork in the field when possible, rather than bringing them into our booking facility,” said Emily Fromelt, the BHCPD’s public information officer. “However, felonies and other arrestees who need to be booked will still be sent to jail.”
The highest likelihood of the virus entering the jail would be with the in-and-out movement of arrestees and inmates, especially those in jail custody for only a short period of time, the MCSO pointed out.
“While we have temporarily modified our booking practices, it should be clear that we will continue to aggressively pursue criminal activity in Mohave County.” Sheriff Doug Schuster stated in the release. “There are no ‘get out of jail free’ cards as a result of this epidemic. And while we may modify our timeline and practices, we will continue to hold people accountable for their actions.”
“We will pull through this together by using common sense and avoiding panic. It is critical that we all make every effort to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control (and Prevention) guidelines regarding prevention measures, and follow their recommendations should you feel ill,” Schuster added.
Arizona State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Brutinel and Mohave County Superior Court Presiding Judge Charles Gurtler both issued administrative orders last week that authorized the various courts to postpone some trials and postpone many scheduled hearings. The orders also recommended that incarcerated defendants not be taken out of the detention facility to appear in court unless their physical presence in the courtroom was required constitutionally. Many hearings will be taking place by telephone or video conference from inside the jail.
The jail also has suspended its work release program and has stopped accepting those previously ordered to surrender and start serving a county jail sentence.
Overall, the goal is to prevent new arrestees or bookings from coming into the jail unless absolutely necessary.
“With the cooperation of our local law enforcement agencies, we have been able to reduce our average daily inmate population by a little more than 15%, about 90 inmates,” Schuster said. “We’d like to lower the population another 10% to 15%.”
By reducing the population, the jail will be able to ease some of the “closeness” in its housing units and create additional space to isolate and quarantine inmates — away from the main units — when it becomes necessary.
“Jail medical staff and detention officers are closely screening all new bookings, following CDC guidelines, and there are no confirmed cases of the virus in our facility,” Schuster said.
The jail received one new inmate who displayed symptoms and was immediately isolated from other inmates and tested for the virus. The test results came back negative on Monday.
On Friday, Bischoff visited with more than 200 inmates, sharing information and fielding questions about the continued supply of food and supplies for normal jail operations, the impacts on future court hearings, and special consideration for an emergency release from custody.
Inmates were directed to communicate with their defense attorneys about consideration for a special release from custody since any consideration for a bond reductions or release on their own recognizance would involve a request for the court to make such an order.
While the jail has restricted all inmate contact from outside the facility to include attorneys, investigators and other professionals, the public video visitation lobby at the facility will remain open and accessible to accommodate visits as long as possible.
Protocols are being implemented to limit the number of people in the visitation area; frequent disinfecting activities will take place several times throughout the visiting day.
Bischoff said the jail continues to work with defense attorneys to enhance their ability to stay in contact with inmates, even when working remotely outside their normal work space.