In an effort to keep officers and jail inmates as safe as possible during the coronavirus pandemic, the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) is taking extra precautions, and has been successful in reducing the jail population.
“We’ve worked with the courts to get some of our low-level offenders released,” said Sheriff Vernon Stanforth. “To keep the population down, we’ve worked with the courts and with the Adult Parole Authority. If someone is accused of a non-violent, misdemeanor crime, then a lot of them are being summonsed into court…we’ll arrange for them to come in and be arraigned. We’ve also continuously checked everybody for fevers, we do that every day. There hasn’t been anyone with flu-like symptoms so far.”
At the time of the interview with Stanforth, the jail population was down to around 50 inmates. Over the past several months, the jail has been averaging 70-plus inmates.
“We’re issuing citations for non-violent offenses, misdemeanor offenses. Now if there’s violence, you’re going to go to jail,” said Stanforth. “If it’s domestic violence or another type of serious, violent crime, you’re going to jail. The safety of the community is just as paramount as the safety of those individuals who are going to jail.”
Stanforth added that any individual arrested can be subject to a battery of tests to see if that person is healthy.
“We take the temperature of the inmate and we try to limit the exposure of the people who have to be in jail,” he said. “When they are brought in, they are isolated for a little bit of time to make sure they don’t illustrate any signs of illness.”
The FCSO is taking similar steps when it comes to admitting anyone from the public into the office.
“We try to limit the exposure to the public,” Stanforth said. “Right now, the public can only come into the lobby. If they have to come in, we have a deputy check their temperature and they are asked a series of questions. If we think there’s a chance they could have been exposed, then we’re not letting them in. We’ve even gotten to the point where we limit our own staff from coming into the dispatch or annex building if it isn’t necessary.
“The staff here is just as concerned about their own health and their family’s health. That’s why we’re limiting access to the building. The dispatch staff keep the dispatch area clean all the time…they are constantly cleaning in there. We’ve had some of the routine illnesses, but that’s par for the course. No one has demonstrated any illness associated with the virus.”
There are also regulations in place designed to limit an officer’s exposure to someone who might have been exposed to the virus during a call or an incident.
“Our deputies are not going to walk into a potential case that exposes them to the virus without protection,” Stanforth said. “The squads are geared up for that type of response and they handle it accordingly. If they need us, they call us. If we need to go into a residence, our people are equipped with what they need to protect themselves, gloves, masks, etc. If we have a hands-on situation, all of the officers have a COVID-19 kit that has been prepared for each cruiser.”
Each deputy is expected to keep their cruisers clean on a regular basis, but during this time it’s even more necessary.
“The patrol cars are the officers’ offices, that’s the deputy’s office. So they are expected to keep those clean anyway,” said Stanforth. “Once anybody else gets into and out of their patrol car, the officer should disinfect it. Same with the jail, we’re disinfecting all the time anyway. Also, we are just telling everyone to wash their hands. Keep your hands clean and use good hygiene.”
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions to everyday life, it has not impacted the FCSO new jail construction project on Robinson Road, according to Stanforth.
“They’re still making good progress out there,” he said. “They’re healthy workers and they are taking precautions out there as well. They’re keeping their distance. It’s a big enough facility and big enough project, and they’re out in the open, so that helps. The workers are having their temperatures taken when they come to work, as well.”
The levy that allowed for the funding of the new jail passed during last year’s special election in May. The levy contained two parts — one to fund the construction and one to fund the operation.
As previously reported, the funding for the jail is a 40-year, $21,002,594 loan with a 3.5 percent interest rate which would add approximately $66.50 annually to property taxes per $100,000 of appraised property value, according to the Fayette County Commissioners.
The project for the new facility came about due to the condition of the current jail which was originally built in 1884. Although there were additions made in the 1900s to the facility, that was prior to the state standards and regulations in effect during this century.
The project is estimated to be completed this fall.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352.